For a team founded just over a decade ago, club swimming at Princeton has come an extremely long way in growing into the competitive and tight-knit outfit that it is today. After a short history which has seen the club expand, shrink, and now expand again, it seems the team is finally finding its feet on the competitive stage, boasting a number of outstanding swimmers who have excelled at events past and look to continue exceeding expectations at future national-level tournaments.
The composition of the team has changed drastically even over the last couple of years. Club swim had no representatives in the 2017 graduating class; however, this didn’t prevent the team from having its largest pool of successful swimmers. Roughly 20 swimmers competed in last year’s Ivy League Championships; club president junior Fritz Hillegas projects an increase to 25 competitors at this year’s rendition, which would shatter the previously-held attendance record.
The anticipated increase stems from a very dedicated class of junior representatives, including around 15 who attend all practices and events, alongside an unusually large class of freshman swimmers. “We definitely go to a lot more meets than we used to when the team was younger,” explained Hillegas, who joined club swim as a freshman before assuming the role of vice-president and now president. “We’ve been able to build up somewhat of an alumni network even though we’re so young.”
The team partakes in a variety of invitationals alongside the crucial Ivy League and National Championships each year. Princeton held a club swimming invitational just a few weeks ago, hosting three other competing schools. Against Ivy League opposition last year, the club came in a respectable third place, even in the face of purported scoring issues. Meanwhile, a number of Princeton club swimmers placed in the top 20 of last year’s Nationals, a remarkable feat considering the magnitude of the tournament and volume of swimmers. The team looks to attend more invitationals in the near future, while also aiming for at least a top-two finish in the Ivy League considering the comparatively increased size of the club this year.
Hillegas identified a number of star swimmers on the team, including junior Ashley Drengler and seniors Effie Angus and Zoe Tu of the women’s team alongside graduate student Akshay Krishna and sophomore Changxiao Xie of the men’s. There has been significant improvement even among the B-heat, contributing to hopes of an even more successful competitive future for the squad.
Beyond the competition, club swim is, at its core, all about the community. Contrary to many other club sports, swimming is not gendered, and the environment is described as highly supportive across all years, with upperclassmen serving as supportive mentors to their underclassmen counterparts. An increase in team bonding activities over the last few years has successfully fostered this collaborative environment.
“I think it’s the best club on campus because I tend to think of everyone on the team as my family. I think it’s so nice to know you can show up to practice when you’re having a down day and someone will be there and make you feel better,” Hillegas reflected. “Sometimes at Princeton it can feel a bit alienating if you’re not part of a group, so it’s nice to always have club swim there. It also definitely helped with my sense of leadership and time management.”
It is clear from recent developments that the club has the ambition to succeed on the Ivy League and Nationals stage. However, it is the increase in team chemistry which can be attributed as the source of increasing participation and corresponding success. Club swim is a team whose members feel genuinely at home, away from the worries of the outside world and focused on a common goal alongside dedicated peers. As Hillegas put it, no matter the background, aspirations, or abilities, “We will always love to have you.”