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  • Zoe Becker

Athletic Recruit Mary Louisa Leopold on Swimming, the Mountain School, College

Credits: Ashely Mattoon

This October, Walls senior Mary Louisa “ML” Leopold committed to attending Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where she’ll be competing on the Division III swim team. Getting there, however, was a long road for her.

Leopold has been swimming on a club team since she was seven. She made the decision not to become a Division I athlete two years ago, when she committed to a semester program in which students live and learn in a small community for the beginning of junior year at the Mountain School in Vermont.

Going to the Mountain School meant taking a semester off of swimming, which was incompatible with swimming at the highest level in college.

“I was comfortable making that decision so early because while I love swimming I don't want to make swimming the key thing about my college experience,” she said.

Ultimately, Leopold felt she made the right decision. “It was such an incredibly meaningful experience and I got a greater appreciation for community and living in a community … being understood without having to try,” she said.

Though she couldn’t swim, while at the Mountain School Leopold still thought about athletic life after high school. She made a list of schools she wanted to swim at but still wasn’t entirely committed to the idea of swimming in college.

“I wanted to open as many doors as possible and not close any. I was emailing schools even if I didn’t think I’d swim there and focusing on not narrowing myself into ‘I'm going to swim in college no matter what,’” she said.

In her correspondence with coaches, primarily of D-III schools, Leopold highlighted her academic achievements and grades rather than her swimming times.

All the while, Leopold was transitioning back from being at the Mountain School to life in D.C., which she described as “a rude awakening.”

On top of having to reacquaint herself with the facets of everyday life in the city, “going from seeing no strangers for months to seeing a hundred strangers on the Metro every day,” Leopold said returning to swimming felt “really demoralizing.”

At the end of her summer swimming season, Leopold attended a meet where she “tanked, [adding] multiple seconds in all of my events.”

Leopold recounted that at the moment she thought this might mean she would never swim in college. However, “I already found schools I really liked and wanted to swim at,” she said.

After that meet, Leopold emailed her times to coaches she was in touch with, as was expected of student athletes in the recruiting process.

“I said that I know progress is not linear, and I have so much more I can do,” she said. “I’m proud of that maturity I demonstrated.”

Coaches responded well to that maturity, Leopold said. “A lot of them agreed that you don’t drop [time at every meet]. I was really lucky that the coaches didn’t write me off. It is my interpretation that they would have if these had been D-I schools.”

Since then, Leopold has come back from the time she added and dropped 3 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly race, her primary event.

By the end of that summer, Leopold had narrowed her initial list of twenty some schools down to four schools that she still liked and where she was still in touch with coaches — Bates, Bowdoin, Pomona, and Middlebury. She sent all four of them her test scores and grades as part of an “early read,” admissions officers’ review of student athletes’ transcripts prior to the beginning of the formal application process.

The early reads came back positively from all four schools. “At a D-III school that means you have a high likelihood of getting in if you apply [early decision] with coach support,” Leopold said.

After early reads, Leopold was invited on recruiting trips to Bowdoin, Middlebury and Pomona and attended an online recruitment event for Bates.

“It was the kind of thing where when I was at every school I was like ‘this is the best one!’,” Leopold recounted.

“I would have been very lucky to wind up at any of them,” Leopold said. However, given the fact that she was planning on applying ED and an acceptance would be binding, she had to narrow down the list to one school.

Leopold ultimately decided on Pomona because of the “smaller classes and connections with teachers. I also love swimming outside and will have that opportunity at a school in California,” she said.

Leopold plans on studying environmental science, a field in which Pomona stands out. She said that “the consortium is what ultimately gave it a huge edge.” The Pomona consortium refers to the Claremont Colleges — Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College — with which Pomona has a very close relationship.

For Leopold, this meant swimming on the same team as students from Pitzer. “[The consortium] makes it feel like more is happening at the school and there’s more different kinds of people … which creates a more interesting team dynamic,” she said.

On Oct. 11, while she was sitting in the basement at Walls, Leopold received a likely letter from Pomona, which meant that she would almost definitely be admitted to the school. Then, on Dec. 16, while she was attending Walls’s winter concert, Leopold received her official acceptance into Pomona.

“I still swim a lot and am trying to get ready for next year,” Leopold said, “but I’m able to put less pressure on myself at meets.”

Congratulations to ML, and best of luck at Pomona next year!


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