Frances VanderMeer: Leaving a wake at all levels of competition

By NIAMH CARTY

COURTESY PHOTO

Senior Frances VanderMeer has had a collegiate athletic career many would dream of. 

A captain of the women’s swim team, she has earned All-NESCAC praise, attended NCAAs three out of her four years here and broken her own school record. For VanderMeer, though, swimming is about so much more than an impressive list of accolades. 

“I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the team that I have,” said VanderMeer. “It’s great to break your own records and go to NCAAs, but if you don’t have a team behind you, it doesn’t mean nearly as much”

VanderMeer has been swimming for as long as she can remember. Her mom rowed at Cornell and her dad was a member of the surf team at the University of California, Santa Barbara —  swimming was a skill they wanted their children to learn as early as possible.

VanderMeer joined her first competitive swim team at age seven. But her high school — Notre Dame High School in Elmira, New York — did not have a swim team when VanderMeer began attending (she played tennis instead). The summer before her sophomore year, VanderMeer, her parents and another family worked to create a swim team, which started out as a mere squad of five. Because that team was so small, Middlebury has been her most authentic team experience.

She did not always plan to swim in college; during her sophomore year of high school, her parents, both being college athletes, encouraged her to pursue collegiate swimming.

VanderMeer was unsure, as she had not yet experienced the bond of being on a team and wondered if swimming in college was something she wanted. Her parents knew from experience, however, how different swimming for a college team would be than VanderMeer’s club and high school experiences. 

She expresses her gratitude for having decided to swim in college. “All of those people who were there [my freshman year] and all the people who are here now and everyone in between has made this sport absolutely incredible,” said VanderMeer. “The support that we have for each other as a team, that is what has made this special, and that has been the best part of all of it.”

Being able to experience the dynamics of being a part of a close, supportive team has been more meaningful to Vandermeer than her accomplishments in the pool.  Her numerous accolades, however, cannot go unnoticed; she will be attending her third NCAA Division III Championship this year from March 18 to March 21. She earned a qualifying 50-yard freestyle time of 23.60 in the NESCAC tournament, which was her second-straight conference title in the event. She also earned her third straight All-NESCAC honors in the 50-yard backstroke, while simultaneously breaking her own school record in the event with a time of 25.69.

Senior teammate Hannah Kredich ’20 spoke about Frances’s strong work ethic. “Even when she went abroad to Bordeaux the fall of her junior year and did not have the opportunity to train as much as she would have at Middlebury, she came back even more determined to improve and work hard, and because of that fire I don’t think it is a coincidence that that was the first year she got an individual title,” said Kredich.

Coach Bob Rueppel is excited to watch Frances compete in her final NCAA championship, “Our goal is to achieve what she has never done before so I am very excited to see her perform,” said Rueppel. “I am confident she will have a great week at NCAA’s.”

Though Frances is preparing for the competitive race, she stresses that her goal “has never been to get to the [nationals] meet. [My] primary goal was to have fun with it and see where that took me and funny enough, when that’s your goal and you don’t put pressure on yourself, good things tend to happen.”

VanderMeer’s composed demeanor carries into her leadership position as a captain of the team. “She has an amazing presence on deck at meets and is someone that, even when she has not had a good swim, will be the first to get right back behind the lanes to cheer for her teammates and to offer words of support and encouragement to anyone who needs it,” said Kredich. 

Coach Rueppel also commented on VanderMeer’s leadership skills “Her impact on the group has been incredible,” said Rueppel. “My hope is that her legacy will continue after she graduates.”

VanderMeer is an International Politics and Economics major, as well as a member of the Middlebury Consulting Group and the Academic Judicial Board. She will be moving to Washington, D.C. this summer to work at Accenture Federal Services, a consulting firm with a focus on the federal government.

In terms of swimming, VanderMeer plans to take a break from the pool for a little while. Without her teammates, swimming would be different. She can see herself coaching in the future, but in the short-term, VanderMeer plans to play more tennis. Swimming will always be important to VanderMeer’s life, though.

 “This sport has taught me so much in terms of work ethic, teamwork, getting along with other people, and leading a large group of people, and those lessons will be with me forever,” said VanderMeer. “And in that way, I guess swimming will always be a part of me and what I do.”

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