Swimmers Naomi Clayton ‘20 and Mattie Stauss ‘22 embracing each other after a dive, showcasing their strong bond as not only teammates, but as friends. Photo: Mattie Stauss

JOANNE LEE, Sports Editor—The Women’s Swim and Dive dominated at the North Coast Athletic Coast Championship, defeating second place Kenyon by 257 points, accumulating an overall 2,044 points over the course of four days, and secured their 10th championship ever. There is no doubt that their success is in large part due to their strong abilities as swimmers in their respective strokes. However, it is clear that their strategy is not just on the skills of each individual swimmer, but as head coach Gregg Parini always tells them, “Culture trumps strategy.” 

I had the chance to sit down with several members of the team, and each one attributed much of their success to their strong team bond. 

Natalie Zaravella ‘20, a global commerce and economics double major reflected on her four years at Denison as a member of the Women’s Team, describing it as a special team. 

“It has the strongest bonds I have ever seen during my four years at Denison. Everyone is valued as more than just a swimmer or diver, but as a person. We push each other, challenge each other, support and encourage each other… we make each other better. The friendships I have formed over my four years, especially this year, are friendships that I will have for a lifetime.” 

This was a sentiment that everyone echoed, across different years and divers. 

Bridget Horton ‘21, a HESS major and Psychology minor described this year to be an especially “supportive and encouraging team atmosphere where everyone respects each other.”

Horton’21 personally found that it was easier to develop closer bonds this year, because of the smaller freshman class. 

“This year, there’s only 6 swimmers and 2 divers compared to 16 last year. It was a little easier to form bonds with a smaller group in a shorter amount of time because last year this time, there were still some freshman whom I hadn’t had the chance to bond as closely as others.”

For freshman Tara Culibrk, a psychology and HESS double major, “This bond is probably one of the biggest reasons why I am here. I have such a strong bond with the other teammates and our whole team feels like a family. With this, hard work becomes easier and more fun and we are so much stronger together. We help each other in and out of the pool and resolve all the issues together.” 

Mattie Stauss ‘22, a political science major, is a diver who can attest to the team bonds that transcends beyond the swimmers, and includes the divers too. 

“There are 6 people in the diving team, but we train at the same time as the swim team and weight lift together so I very much feel like I am equally part of the team, and we all feel like we’re in this together.” 

In the days leading up to the competition, the team made sure to focus on mental as well as physical strength. Not only did the team spend 6 days a week in the pool or weightlifting, but they also had team bonding experiences, to solidify the team dynamic as Culibrk ‘23 described the “team activity [the team] did the weekend before in order to raise the team spirit.”

Horton ’21 described that “during practices, the team really gave their all, and focused on the little things. They may not seem to matter day to day, but when everyone really builds on the small things and comes together, our team can be unstoppable.” 

According to Zaravella ‘20 “this year, we worked hard on preparing our minds for optimal performance. Before a big meet, we trust that the hardest work is done, so all we have to do is go all in – no holding back.”

Culibrk ’23 described the mixture of nervousness and excitement she felt going into the meet. After months of training, she knew this was her opportunity to show herself and her team what she’d been working on. Thanks to her teammates, she was able to relax and go into the meet with a clear head. 

“I was very nervous going into this, because I didn’t want to let my team down by not swimming well. The team really helped calm my nerves, especially the seniors who act as our older sisters. They helped us feel calm and motivated us to focus on having fun, and I was excited to just go in and swim as never before, and focus on my mental strength.” 

All their hard work paid off, as each person was able to achieve their individual goals.

Diver Stauss ‘22 wanted to qualify for Regionals in both the 1 meter and 3 meter dive, which she did on the very first day and after that, she was “able to focus the rest of the meet on supporting my teammates and having fun.” 

Horton ‘21 achieved her personal best goal in the past two years and got NCAA B cut times which was extremely rewarding, but “personally, she wanted to go in a focus on really having fun and being the best teammate.” 

Zaravella ‘20’s personal goal for conference was “to be the best teammate I could be (and given the hoarseness of my voice, I think I accomplished cheering very loud!). We all drew inspiration from each other’s amazing performances and we utilized the energy we created to have a really satisfying meet.”

Their most memorable moment from this event is a true testament to their strong bond. Despite the individual nature of swimming an event, the Women’s Team has worked extremely hard to dispute that notion. Everyone supported each other and was there for each other.

Culibrk ‘23 described her 800 yard free relay where “ the whole team was cheering for myself, Mia Chiappe ‘21, Caroline Colville ‘20, and Hannah Rusinko ‘20 and it just gave me a lot of adrenaline. I wanted to win for my team and their support in the stands made me give my 100%. It was just such a special moment that I will remember forever.”

For Stauss ‘22, it was the final 400 yard free relay with Gabriella Nutter ‘20, Michaela Morrison ‘20, Maddie Hopkins ‘21, and KT Kustritz ‘20  “when the whole team had on their matching shirts and sports bra, cheering for the team. The energy was unforgettable, and we crushed Kenyon.” 

In both these events, the women’s team placed first. 

It was Horton ‘21’s first time being part of the “women winning conference so it was an unforgettable experience and we have a strong chance at placing first at Nationals as well which will be from March 18 – 21 at Greensboro, North Carolina.” 

Zaravella ‘20 “will always remember the moments leading up to us accepting the award for winning the NCAC meet. The entire women’s team stood in a line, holding hands, and we all walked together in that formation to receive our award. The 2019 – 2020 women’s swim and dive team is the most focused, determined, and passionate group I have been a part of. It didn’t matter if you were a swimmer or a diver, or how many points you scored because winning conference was a full team effort that could not have been accomplished without every single person on the team.”