After two years of swimming at King Philip, Carly Schnabel made a decision to step away from the high school team and commit herself fully to her club team, the Shamrock Swim Club based in Milton, and to USA Swimming.
Competing at the Div. I level in college had been her dream since she was just six or seven years old and pulled on a swim cap for the first time at the Sher-Lo-Mon Swim Club in Cumberland, R.I. Heading into her junior year at KP, Schnabel’s times were right on the cusp between DI and DII.
“It was definitely one of those moments where it was make or break right now,” Schnabel recalled during a phone call this week. She admits that it was a very tough decision to step away from the Warriors but a necessary one to achieve her goals. “When I stepped away from high school and really focused on swimming club,” she explained, “then I was able to get fast enough to swim Div. I, which was my dream.”
She added, “It was sort of a necessary thing to do at the time that wasn’t necessarily fun but something I had to do to get where I wanted to be.”
It was a decision that paid off. Schnabel is now entering her senior season as the captain of the Northeastern University swim team, and she holds three school records for the Huskies (500-yard freestyle, 1,000-yard freestyle, and 400-yard medley relay).
“It’s surreal. It’s crazy,” Schnabel said with a laugh. “I think back to putting on a swim cap for the first time at six or seven and thinking about how much I hated getting in the water. I wish I could say to my 5-year-old self it’s going to be okay, you’re going to make it.”
Schnabel made an instant impact on Huntington Ave. She was named the team’s Rookie of the Year after her freshman season. She won the 100-free against New Hampshire in one of her first meets, won three events against Vermont, and was part of a second place finish for the 200 medley relay at the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Championships.
All that success came while getting acclimated to college life, to the rigorous schedule of a DI program, and new weightlifting and training regimens.
“I wouldn’t say surprised, but pleased,” Schnabel said about her early success at Northeastern. “Adjusting to college is something that’s very difficult but I guess I really took to it and freshman year I was training with some really great coaches and really great swimmers and really focused on it and was able to rally together to put a result out there.”
When asked if she had a moment during that freshman season when she realized that she had made it and that she was a DI-caliber swimmer, Schnabel laughed and replied, “I still have those moments of shock where I can’t believe that I’m here and doing this because I never expected to realize my dream. Even as a senior I have moments where I’m like this is it, this is the level, this is exactly what I’ve been working for.”
During the summer between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Schnabel committed to training and preparing herself for the rigors of another year in the pool. She also switched from sprinting events to distance, which she believed was “more natural” for her.
It was another decision that worked perfectly. Schnabel won three events and took second in another in her season debut against Boston University. Set the program record in the 1,000-free against Harvard and then set a new 500-free record at the CAA Championships (while totaling 30 individual points, which was the second highest total in program history). After a season filled with first place finishes, she was honored as the team MVP.
“I guess that year everything just sort of clicked,” she said. “I had the first year to adjust to Northeastern and adjust to weightlifting and new training and over the summer I just buckled down.”
Not only was Schnabel a success in the pool, but she was also recognized for her leadership outside of it. Following her junior season, she was awarded the inaugural CAA Leadership and Sports Excellence Award, after being nominated by her coaches and academic advisors. She was chosen out of nominees from each of the conference’s women’s swim teams.
“I had no idea I was nominated,” she explained. “I was on campus in the summer, so I was sitting in a classroom when I got a call from my coach who was like, ‘Hey congrats!’ And I was like, ‘For what?’”
Schnabel added, “I was very honored and very humbled to win an award beyond swimming. It encompasses more of my personality and more of my character, which is what I value more than just times. At the end of the day, it’s about what person am I and what has swimming made me. It was nice to be recognized that it’s going well.”
Northeastern has started the season 3-2 with wins over BU, Lehigh, and Maine. It is still early going and there is a lot of swimming still to go before the season closes at the CAA Championships in February. There is always pressure to perform at the DI level, but Schnabel is taking a different approach to her final season. She is trying to appreciate the moment and enjoy one last season at the Barletta Natatorium.
“I’m definitely trying to enjoy the season, enjoy the process,” she said. “Now that I have more perspective, I just decided that I’ll work as hard as I can at practice and the times will come. It’s more about putting in what I need to put in, not overly stress about it and enjoy everything that’s going on. So far, it’s been really great.”
With the Huskies off for the weekend because of nationals, it was a good moment for Schnabel to reflect on just how far she has come and how much swimming has added to her collegiate experience.
“I couldn’t imagine being here without it,” she said. “It’s definitely what has made my college experience so amazing and worthwhile. I’m really glad that I did it and I’m really sad that it’s my last year.”
How does she want to close out her career? “No regrets,” she said. “I want to finish my last race and say that was the best I could’ve done and that’s how I want to end my career. It doesn’t have to be my best time but just some closure.”
Northeastern will be back in action on Dec. 8 against UNH.