37th Annual Seven Sisters Championship Marks the End of an Era in Friendly Competition

Desi and Kim
From left to right: Desi Stoyanova and Kim Bierwert

By Lianne McCluskey, Swimming World College Intern.

The 37th Annual Seven Sisters Swimming & Diving Championship hosted by Smith College on January 19-20 marked the end of a longstanding tradition celebrating camaraderie and competition. This meet leaves an unforgettable mark on the history of women’s collegiate swimming.

Smith College Athletic Director Kristin Hughes shared the reason for ending it this year is mostly an equity issue. The Seven Sisters Championships were only being run in four sports, and three out of five of the remaining schools compete within the same conference each year.

“So while we really value the relationship with each other, we did not feel it was the best overall model for our institutions while fully recognizing it’s value,” said Hughes. “We hope to still maintain the strong ties we have to one another.  And I would imagine in many cases we will maintain some sort of competition.”

That was the consensus at the banquet on Saturday night, where former Smith College head coach Kim Bierwert welcomed teams after the first day of competition at Dalton Pool.

“It is a very special gift to be able to participate in this meet, and I hope you all appreciate the joy it brings to everyone,” said Bierwert, who began coaching at Smith in 1977, five years before the creation of the meet. Members of the five swim teams, including alumni, come back for the meet and banquet each year and are accustomed to sitting at the dining tables with athletes from opposing teams. Being opponents is disregarded at this championship.

“I hope you understand that and you feel it,” said Bierwert. “It is a very supportive and energetic meet, and there is a lot of synergy that goes on among all competitors. Where else would you be where teams share in the cheers they do [on the pool deck].”

The Seven Sisters originated in 1927 as the female equivalent to the once predominantly male Ivy League colleges. Barnard, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Radcliffe are the original members of the Seven Sisters; however, Vassar and Radcliffe are now co-ed institutions.

Colleges competing at the Seven Sisters Swimming & Diving Championship include Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Smith. Following the final session on Sunday afternoon, Wellesley College claimed their twenty-second consecutive Seven Sisters title. The Blue won 29 Seven Sisters Championships in total and every title since 1998.

Wellesley Swim and Dive

Photo Courtesy: Wellesley College Athletics

Each year, Bierwert also presents The Marly Pineda Award in honor of the former Smith College swimmer who died tragically in 2010 from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.

Bierwert also presents the Marly Pineda Award each year to an outstanding senior from any team who exhibits enthusiasm towards every aspect of the sport, sportsmanship, and is an all-around outstanding teammate. “Before every race and after every race, Marley would genuinely congratulate or wish good luck to someone, because she greatly appreciated the effort that every single person put in,” said Bierwert. This year’s recipient of the award was Smith senior Desi Stoyanova (Plovdiv, Bulgaria).

Stoyanova said she previously felt that this award was unreachable for her. “There are so many unique and prominent swimmers here, so I wasn’t thinking about it,” said Stoyanova. She gives the credit to the love and support of the Seven Sisters community. “It meant so much to me; all I felt was love by the community – pure joy and happiness. The love and support backing me up, that’s what drives me. I do it for the people.”

This meet has always been enjoyable for Stoyanova, because there is a different energy that she has not experienced at any other meet. She says this year was the best meet she has ever attended of any she has ever swum in. Not only did she receive an award that embodies the spirit of the meet, but she also says that when she began to get nervous, she was able to focus on the meet being a celebration of hard work and had nothing to lose.

Lisl Prater-Lee and Vassar

Photo Courtesy: Lianne McCluskey

“We are not competing against each other, but rather we are coming together for something that is bigger than ourselves,” said Stoyanova. “At this meet, you are genuinely happy. Meets can be nerve wracking, but we are happy to be swimming for each other.”

Experiencing the camaraderie of the Seven Sisters Championship is something that swimmers have been able to take with them long after they have graduated from their program. It’s not uncommon for alumni from any of the five swim programs to come back and support their friends as they compete at the championship, which has alternated locations each year among the schools. Smith College ’18 alum Abby Bergman spoke at the banquet of the unforgettable memories and lifelong friendships she took away from the meet.

“I urge you to treasure your camaraderie, forge your connections, and leverage your common experiences,” said Bergman as she stood at the podium. “Don’t take for granted this opportunity to swim fast, make friends, and build a community to last a lifetime.”

Stoyanova also provides clear evidence of the way this meet has left its mark on swimmers who attend: “One way or another, this meet has changed me for the better.”

One tradition of the meet that brings the teams together are the Seven Sisters cheer and dancing the hokey pokey before the final session of the meet. Here are the teams chanting together prior to the second session of the meet:

 

Although the tradition of the Seven Sisters Championships will be a memory, the spirit of the meet will forever be ingrained in the athletes and coaches in attendance. The swimming and diving coaches among the five colleges expressed their sadness for seeing this meet end, but they look forward to creating a new meet to fill the void.

The following were team scores at the championship:

1) Wellesley College – 1334.5

2) Vassar College – 983.5

3) Smith College – 511

4) Mount Holyoke College – 483

5) Bryn Mawr College – 295

All commentaries and research was conducted by the the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.