P-P women’s swim and dive clinches top five at DIII championship

Coaches clap on the poolside.
Head coach Jean Paul-Gowdy and fellow assistant coaches applaud the swim and dive teams for their efforts. (Courtesy: Aaron Gray)

Pomona-Pitzer’s women’s swim and dive team made history at this year’s NCAA Division III championships with a fifth place finish, their best standing in over thirty years. The glory was equally meaningful for head coach John-Paul Gowdy, who had yet to coach a team to a top-five finish in his career.

Coming into the four action-packed days in Indianapolis, Gowdy was cautiously optimistic.

“We’ve learned not to expect anything,” he said. “We knew that the women’s team especially had the potential to finish [well] but, like with any sporting event, a lot goes into a finish like that … so you don’t want to assume.”

However, he felt the team was in a good place, which he attributes to their successful performance.

“When you have a good team environment, you tend to bounce back from the little setbacks you have along the way and at the end of the meet we get the kind of result that we’re super, super proud of,” Gowdy said.

Despite a tense atmosphere in the pool, the Sagehens immediately shined on the first day with impressive swims from All-Americans Avery Turney PO ’25 and Alexandra Turvey PO ’24 in the 50 meter freestyle. After both advanced to the final, Turney clocked in at exactly 23.00 seconds for a new personal best and sixth place finish overall, while her teammate finished eighth at 23.19.

Following these individual swims, Turney, Turvey and teammates Abbey Liao PZ ’24 and Alex Gill PO ’23 put on a stellar performance in the 200 medley relay, finishing fifth overall and earning All-American honors. 

The second day was highlighted by Ruby Epstein PO ’22, who became the first-ever female P-P diver to compete at the championship, and the women’s team collecting an impressive four All-American honors overall in a single day. 

The third day continued in similar fashion with more All-American honors and leading into an exciting final day of competition. Turney dropped 0.4 seconds in her final 100 freestyle swim to finish as national runner-up, while Turvey finished fourth in the event just behind her teammate.

The championship wrapped up with a nail-biting 400 freestyle relay. With the Sagehens needing to secure one position above University of Chicago to solidify fifth place, standouts Valerie Mello PZ ’25, Turney, Haley Kirtland PO ’24, and anchor-woman Turvey fought their way to a runners-up finish in the race. 

The achievement gave the Sagehens a final score of 226 points and their historic fifth place championship finish. 

To achieve this success at nationals, Gowdy brought up the importance of community support that helped transform all the athletes’ hard work into success in the pool.

“A lot goes into the culminating performance that you see and certainly most of the credit goes to the athletes that did it, but there’s a lot of people and effort that put them in position to be there,” he said.

Participating in the first DIII tournament since 2019, the extended break made the athletes “hungry” to get back in the pool, according to Gowdy. The silver lining of this obstacle, however, was that many of the swimmers learned about themselves while away from the team.

“Several of our athletes matured through the pandemic in ways that really helped them as athletes,” he said. “They learned how to listen to their body and how to work in ways that really help them be better at practices and meets … it forced them to grow up a little bit and figure things out a little bit more on their own.”

One standout aspect of the team was the astounding number of underclassmen at the competition.

This year’s team includes a lot of first-years, “because some athletes that would have been sophomores took a year off last year,” Gowdy said. “They combined with a nice recruiting class and put their skills on display.”

Despite the smaller number of upperclassmen, the team molded together well. 

“We faced the challenge of carrying over some of the important cultural team traditions that are so important to our success over the years,” Gowdy said. “Despite there being less seniors and juniors to guide them, the first-years bought in … a big reason why we had a good deal of success. We’re proud of who we are as a team and a community.”

Looking forward, P-P women’s swim and dive has a lot of promise left in store for the future. 

“We had a lot of things go well this year,” Gowdy said. “I hope we can have another year where a lot of things go well and certainly we have it in us to [place] a little bit higher.”

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