In Fifth Year, Villanova’s Milly Routledge Keeps Proving Them Wrong

Milly Routledge; Photo Courtesy: Villanova Athletics

In Fifth Year, Villanova’s Milly Routledge Keeps Proving Them Wrong

The tattoo on Milly Routledge’s right biceps is a constant reminder of a distant home. “Prove them wrong,” it reads, in stylized script.

The “them” often seem distant for the Villanova grad student. “They” include people at home in North Ascot, England, who were confused as to why Routledge was turning in such fast times growing up, on the way to British Olympic Trials in 2016. Those who thought that her aspirations to swim in college in the United States might be aiming too high.

Four years, four Big East team championships and one Most Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet award later, “they” seem to be stumped over and over.

Milly Routledge

Milly Routledge; Photo Courtesy: Villanova Athletics

“It’s a saying that me and my dad (Tim) have come up with over the years,” Routledge told Swimming World recently. “Back at home, swimming, I had a lot of judgement and negative feedback on how well I was doing based on where I was at in the training I was doing and lot of people telling me, I shouldn’t be as good as I am. And to me, ‘prove them wrong’ is not only motivating because of that kind of judgement but also for myself that I know I can keep getting better and I can go through a whole bunch of struggles that I’ve been through in my life and still be successful in all aspects of my life.

“It’s a reminder of home through my family, but it’s also a reminder that I can achieve anything that I put my mind to, and as long as I commit to it and give it my best effort, I know that I can be successful in whatever I want to do.”

At Villanova, Routledge found a home for that challenge, so much so that she jumped at the chance for a fifth year with the Wildcats. The desire to be part of something bigger originally attracted her to the Main Line in 2017. The same lure kept her there when the NCAA granted extra eligibility to compensate for the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions of 2020-21.

Routledge, who graduated with a degree in psychology in May, mulled over taking her final year elsewhere. Instead, she wanted to be part of the quest for a ninth straight Big East title and the larger goals that the Wildcats are chasing.

“I didn’t want to come into college being the fastest person; I wanted to be surrounded by people who’d make me better as an athlete and as a person, and I think Villanova did exactly that and is continually doing that as I develop through not only my swimming but my education as well,” she said. “Not only to be a part of that through my younger years but now becoming one of the leaders on the team, being able to continue that success and that kind of attitude and mindset and encouraging that through the younger years has really helped me shape the person I want to be and the person that I want to be able to leave with this team as a legacy, to be able to continue to get better and continue to look to get better as a team and as a program.”

Routledge is a leader out of the water, which follows from what she’s done in the pool. As a junior in 2020, she pulled a Big East treble, winning the women’s 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. She also helped the Wildcats win three relays and took home Most Outstanding Women’s Swimmer honors.

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Milly Routledge; Photo Courtesy: Villanova Athletics

She repeated in the 100 and 200 free at the 2021 Big East Championships and swam on four victorious relays. For her career, she has five individual and 17 total Big East championships. She’s a 21-time All-Big East selection.

Villanova is off to a 4-1 start this dual-meet season, with triumphs over league foes Georgetown and UConn. The Wildcats also finished second out of six teams at the West Virginia Invitational in November, where Routledge finished in the top six in three individual events and led off the Wildcats’ winning 400 free relay to go with two runner-up relay spots.

Routledge hasn’t had to sacrifice her post-swimming aspirations in remaining at Villanova. Her fifth year in the pool will cover the first half of a postgrad program in clinical mental health counseling. Routledge wants to be a sports psychologist or sports counselor, drawing on her experience with the mental side of competition to aid others. To that end, she’s been a big part of Villanova’s Every Mind Matters initiative, which emphasizes mental health within the athletic department.

The ability to pursue that personal passion was another indication that staying at Villanova was right move for her.

“I think it’s been one of the things I’ve been most passionate about. I’ve given a lot of time to it because I want it to be an integral part of Villanova athletics as a whole,” Routledge said. “I know it’s a developing time in how people are understanding how important mindset and mentality are to athletic performance. I think Every Mind matters is my opportunity to bring it to Villanova and put it right in front of people’s faces to know that everything that student-athletes are going through is normal, the stress, the anxiety, the pressure and even all the clinical mental health problems like depression, and all the things of being a student as well as an athlete, all that collective experience is normal. And everyone’s going through it, so we should talk about it more and they can feel more comfortable being able to express when they’re struggling and reaching out for help.”

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