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Athlete of the Week: Mehra den Braven ’20

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Volleyball standout Mehra den Braven ’20 has thrived so far in her second year on the team. An outside hitter hailing from Santa Clara, Calif., den Braven has captured All-Tournament honors for the second straight weekend, as the Garnet have extended their record to 13-5 overall and remain undefeated at home. Den Braven has 218 points recorded throughout the season so far, with highs of 27 digs against Stockton University and 17 kills against Eastern University. The Garnet return to action Oct. 12 with an away match against Rowan University, and again on Oct. 14 in a rematch of last season’s Centennial Conference Championship at Johns Hopkins.

Ping Promrat: What is your intended major, and what motivated you to pursue it?

Mehra den Braven: I don’t know my intended major for sure, as I’m still trying to find my niche. Right now, it looks like it will be political science and economics, and maybe sociology or peace and conflict studies mixed in there.

PP: What got you into volleyball as a kid? How did you find out about volleyball at Swat?

MDB: My parents forced me to go these club tryouts. I got on the best team because I was tall, not because I was good! However, that’s really where I fell in love with the game, as I was surrounded by players who were much better than me. I was recruited by Swat over a two-year process, as I met Cecily Scavicchio [the old assistant coach] at an academic camp. As I got to know her and Harleigh Chwastyk [the head coach] is when I started to fall in love with Swarthmore

PP: What is your favorite part of being a student athlete?

MDB: My favorite part is the connections you make as a team. It made the transition to college for me so much easier, as I had many friends who struggled with that. I can always text anyone to meet up for lunch, and all the girls on the team make life so much more enjoyable!

PP: You were named to the All-Tournament Team at the Garnet Quad Tournament last weekend for the second weekend in a row. What is it like to have that type of personal success as a sophomore?

MDB: I always want to be better, so the ideal would be MVP of the tournament! However, I never expect any awards or anything, so I just focus on playing my game. At the same time, it is a balance between appreciating where you are and wanting to get better.

PP: Have you been participating in the kneeling protest during the national anthem? If so, what inspires you to take part in it?

MDB: I have been participating in the kneeling protest and showing solidarity. I’ve been so inspired by Lelosa [Aimufua ‘20] and Emma [Morgan-Bennett ‘20]’s motivation and strength in pursuing this, and how they’ve really thought about why they’re doing what they’re doing. However, it is really complicated still even within the team. Some people see the kneeling as disrespectful to our military, but for others, the kneeling is not meant to have that effect at all. I just hope people understand that at the end of the day, it is a peaceful protest that is focused on bringing attention to certain issues in our country that have been neglected.

PP: What are your athletic goals for the team, and yourself for the rest of the season?

MDB: The broadest goal for us would be winning the Conference Championships, especially after coming so close against Johns Hopkins last year. I want us to show a little more strength, swagger, and fierceness, and if we can keep building towards that, the success will continue to come.

Volleyball players aim high by taking a knee

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At the women’s volleyball home game on Sept. 30 against Widener, most of the team knelt during the national anthem. Those who didn’t kneel held hands with their teammates in an expression of solidarity. Spectators were mostly activists and supporters; many of them were dressed in black and knelt in solidarity.

After the national anthem ended, the group returned to the stands, and president of the Swarthmore African-American Student Society Annie Slappy ’20 spoke words of encouragement.

Slappy, who helped organize the spectators through a Facebook event, said that the players who knelt reached out to SASS for support.

“We couldn’t put it all on our players,” she said. “Any time anybody asks me to come to something like that, I’m going to do it.”

Prior to the team’s home game on Sept. 27 against Franklin and Marshall, the two players who started the protest, Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 and Lelosa Aimufua ’20, released a statement outlining why they believed it was necessary to take a knee. In the statement, they discussed how Trump’s incendiary comments about NFL players taking a knee feed into persistent racism in the United States and addressed questions of patriotism and peaceful protest.

Aimufua believes that the protest was a way to display her own political positions.

“Being a black woman is something that I think about in every aspect of my life … and so I want to say that the motivation behind this type of protest would be that feeling like my voice has constantly been silenced by American society,” Aimufa said.

Morgan-Bennett outlined four reasons why she decided to take a knee: to support Colin Kaepernick’s original protest against the harm of police brutality on minorities; to condemn Donald Trump’s attacks on athletes of color; to make a gesture that she has faith in the country but wishes for people to recognize the differences of protection for people of color and affluent white male citizens; and finally, to promote solidarity and respect for veterans as she herself comes from a military family.

Both Aimufua and Morgan-Bennett commented that, in addition to wanting to support Kaepernick and denounce Trump, they wanted to start a discussion of the intersection between race and sports, especially at the college level. According to Aimufua, they spent a lot of time considering their statement and met with their teammates, coaches, and the assistant director of athletics.

Morgan-Bennett noted that these meetings contributed to what she views as one of the successes of this protest.

“We began a dialogue and opened a conversation about race, about activism, about the relationships between sports and black bodies on the court and on the field. Our entire team had a very meaningful and introspective conversation about race and racial politics within our sport, within our team and what we want to do with this,” Morgan-Bennett said.

She also hopes that taking a knee could potentially spread to other colleges in the area, sparking a conference-wide protest.

Head Women’s Volleyball coach Harleigh Chwastyk explained that the team has been addressing this issue for over a year by having discussions on diversity and identity in classroom sessions, small groups, and one-on-one conversations. According to Chwastyk, the team also discussed each player’s opinions about Morgan-Bennett and Aimufua’s statement and the choice to kneel or stand for the national anthem.

“We talked about how we felt about it, individual choices, where people stood, where their opinions were in that moment and what they were planning on doing [during the national anthem], and how we could also show solidarity as a team,” Chwastyk said.

Outside of the team, the spectators who took a knee believe that it generated a conversation on campus about racial injustice.

“It’s a good way to call attention to injustices that have been occurring in the world,” said Lali Pizarro ’20, a spectator who participated in the protests. “I do think that it was powerful and it got people on this campus talking.”

Aimufua sees the protest as a success in part because it allowed for people to think about larger issues facing the country.

“What I wanted from the protest was for people to actually reflect on the status of the country and how … to make this country great, because I don’t think it’s great right now, and I think we can do so much better,” Aimufua said.

When asked why they decided to kneel specifically at Swarthmore, Morgan-Bennett said that regardless of the school they attended, they would have made the same choice because they felt compelled to follow their personal morals as black athletes.

“We are people who occupy both spaces on the court and also our own identities as black women … it’s not about an ideal place to protest,” Morgan-Bennett said.

Aimufua agreed with her teammate.

“We live here … it’s an important part of our lives … and our activism is also another important part of our lives,” she said.

Their activism is now closely tied to the fierce national debate about patriotism and first amendment rights in relation to sports.

The debate has gotten more attention lately since late September when, at a rally in Alabama, Donald Trump made a series of inflammatory comments regarding Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. After the rally and following Trump’s tweets, the “Take a Knee” protest spread, including more players kneeling, linking arms, or raising fists during the pre-game national anthem.

Referring to these events and an op-ed published by the Daily Gazette this past Thursday, Slappy said that often, people will tell black protesters that they are “ineffectual” or not “protesting in the right way.”

“[It’s a sentiment] that further reinforces the [idea] that black people are only here for sports, and I feel like black people already feel that enough,” Slappy said.

She also commented that society judges black people almost exclusively by how hard they work and their physical characteristics, which is reflected in how black athletes are expected to perform but not have a political voice.

“It’s time for us to understand that black bodies are fetishized, especially in sports. Because the fact that all of these things are happening in the world and football fans don’t feel responsible for it is a problem, especially since there is so much money and influence in athletics,” Slappy said.

Aimufua offered a way to understand her and her teammates’ gesture through established practices in organized sports.

“What kneeling for the anthem means is that in sports, if someone gets injured on the field, you take a knee, regardless if the person is on your team or the opposing team. Taking a knee is a sign of respect and acknowledgement that someone is hurt, and someone is down, and they need you to care, and take a breath, and reflect,” Aimufua said.

Aimufua and Morgan-Bennett’s full statement can be found on page A4 of this issue of the Phoenix, as well online in the Opinions section.



**This article has been edited to reflect that Morgan-Bennett and Aimufa’s statement is also available online.

Garent Sports Update

in Fall/Men/Sports/Women by

As we wrap up our first month back on campus, our fall Garnet athletes are right in the thick of their competition schedules. A number of teams have events this weekend.

Men’s and Women’s Cross Country

Our cross-country teams travel to Bethlehem, Pa., this weekend to compete in Lehigh University’s 44th Annual Paul Short Run. They will be among the 6,000 athletes and 450 colleges and high schools competing in the the nation’s largest intercollegiate cross country meet.

Men’s Golf

Our Men’s Golf team travels to The Bridges Golf Club to compete in McDaniel College’s Mason-Dixon Collegiate Classic this Saturday and Sunday.

Women’s Field Hockey

Our Field Hockey team hosts Franklin and Marshall College at home Saturday at noon. The Garnet will try to keep their momentum from last week’s Penalty Shootout win against McDaniel and hope to improve to .500 in Centennial Conference play.

Women’s Soccer

Our 10th-ranked Women’s Soccer team hosts Franklin and Marshall College at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Garnet will try to rebound from their first loss of the season last Saturday at McDaniel and hope to continue their undefeated record at home this season.

Men’s Soccer

Our Men’s Soccer team hosts Johns Hopkins at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Garnet hope to remain undefeated in Centennial Conference play as they face the undefeated and 11th-ranked Hopkins team.

Men’s Tennis

Our Men’s Tennis team travels to Fredericksburg, Va., to compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association regionals this Friday to Sunday. Our Women’s team competed in their ITA regionals last weekend.

Women’s Volleyball

Our Women’s Volleyball team hosts the Swarthmore Quad tournament this Friday through Saturday in our very own Tarble Pavilion. The Garnet will compete Friday at 7 p.m. against Oneonta, Saturday at 10 a.m. against Widener, and Saturday at 4 p.m. against Cabrini. Oneonta, Widener, and Cabrini will also compete against one another in neutral site games at Tarble Pavilion.

Women’s Volleyball claims second consecutive ECAC title

in Columns/Sports by

Returning as veterans of ECAC postseason competition, the Women’s Volleyball team knew what hard work lay ahead in order to repeat their championship win. After a crushing 3-2 loss to Johns Hopkins University in the Centennial Conference championship tournament, the Garnet focused their attention solely on finishing the season on a high note in the ECAC tournament. Although certainly disappointed by their defeat, the Garnet did not allow the situation to dampen their work ethic but rather relied on their impressive team chemistry to overcome challenges on the court.

       “Our team has one of the best energies I’ve ever experienced. The girls are too fun, weird, and loving,”said Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20. On Sunday, Nov. 13th at Lebanon Valley College, all of that hard work came to fruition as the Garnet topped both NYU and Emerson College in 3-1 and 3-0 matches respectively, thereby securing their second consecutive ECAC title.

       After dropping their first set to NYU, the Garnet rallied back to win the second set, led by veterans Amanda Reed ’17 and Christina Shincovich ’17, as well as tournament MVP Sarah Wallace ’18. However, that shift in momentum carried the team through the finish line as they handily dropped NYU in the next two sets, and followed that by trouncing Emerson in straight 25-12, 25-12, 25-19 sets. In the stunning championship victory over Emerson, the Garnet posted impressive numbers, with 11 aces and a staggering .319 hitting percentage. Wallace and Olivia Leventhal ‘18 finished as team leaders, with 26 and 16 kills respectively.

       Following the route of Emerson, the team appeared ecstatic as they raised the trophy overhead and paused to reflect on the season. As Isabelle Andrews ’20 stated, “Overall, our season was pretty incredible. We grew and learned so much about ourselves and the team as the season progressed.” However, the maturity and discipline among the players was clearly evident as they also recognized those that had led and taught them up to this point.

       “This season was a such an honor to be a part of. We can all see how much our coaches push us to exceed their expectations, all while still caring and nurturing us,” Morgan-Bennett said,

       However, the championship game also proved to be even more special for Wallace, as she not only won tournament MVP, but also reached the challenging feat of 1,000 digs in her collegiate athletic career. According to the Swarthmore Athletics page, she is the 11th player to achieve the daunting record in program history and only the fifth at Swarthmore to have 1,000 kills and digs. Sarah Girard ’19 also won All-Tournament honors and appears set to become the 12th player to reach 1,000 kills, as she currently stands at 988 with two seasons of eligibility left.

       Now a consistent force to be reckoned with in the ECAC and Centennial Conference, the Garnet look forward to future success as they return their entire starting lineup for next year. As Andrews said, “I’m very optimistic about next year, and can’t wait to see how far we’ll go.”

Athlete of the Week: Sarah Girard ’19

in Athlete of the Week/Sports by

This season, the Women’s Volleyball team won a school-record 27 games in addition to its second straight ECAC championship. One of the main contributors to the team’s sustained success was libero Sarah Girard ’19. Over the past two years, Girard has been a digging machine. She was awarded the 2015 Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year and was named to the 2015 and 2016 All-Centennial Conference first teams. Though only a sophomore, her 988 digs place her just outside the top 10 on Swarthmore’s career digs list, and her 4.53 digs/set is the highest mark in school history.

THE PHOENIX: What do you like most about being a student-athlete?

SARAH GIRARD: There are a lot of great parts of being a student-athlete, like the chance to play against some amazing teams and the opportunity to continue competing at the collegiate level. I think the best part, though, is the second family I get away from home. If I’m having a rough week or need someone to talk to, it’s so reassuring to know that I have a whole team of amazing women in my corner.  

TP: What is your (prospective) major, and what influenced you to pursue it?

SG: While I’m still not completely decided, I’m planning to double major in mathematics and political science.

TP: How does it feel to repeat as ECAC Champions?

SG: Although it’s not the outcome we were aiming for, I’m still really proud of our team for winning ECACs again this year. After losing to Hopkins in the conference championship match, we challenged ourselves to stay competitive despite our disappointment, and it was so nice to end the season on a win.

TP: How will your ECAC success prepare you for a future NCAA tournament run?

SG: Hopefully, our ECAC championships will serve as stepping stones that will eventually lead us to the NCAAs. Every year, it seems like we get closer and closer to making it to the tournament, so I feel like our success in the ECACs just shows that we are capable of achieving this goal if we continue to put in the work.

TP: What is it like to be named first-team all conference in each of your first two years?

SG: It’s definitely rewarding to be recognized individually, but volleyball is unique in the way every single player on the court and bench contributes something important to the team’s success. I wouldn’t get nearly as many digs without the blockers setting me up for success or my teammates pushing me to play my best every day in practice.

Athlete of the Week: Mehra den Braven ’20

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What She’s Done:

This past week, den Braven continued her stellar freshman campaign. She recorded double digit kills in her past five contests, helping propel the team to Garnet Classic championship. For her outstanding play, she was named as the Classic’s MVP and the Centennial Conference Player of the Week. den Braven, an outside hitter from Santa Clara, California, excelled both athletically and academically last year for Pinewood High School, being named to the all-Skyline first team multiple times, all-Skyline MVP in 2013, and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. This season, den Braven has played in every game so far for the Garnet, and is second on the team in kills, averaging slightly more than three a set. That same statistic is also good for eighth in the conference. Over the past week, den Braven has averaged an impressive 3.73 kills per set, higher than the current conference leader’s season average.

Favorite Athletic Moment:

When you realize that the team is meshing, and you have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are invincible together.

Thoughts About Winning an MVP Award as a Freshman:

SO COOL! It’s a good sign that I’m on the right track in all the work I’m putting in.

Favorite Animal:

Whales and jellyfish because they blow my mind.

Weekend roundup and the week ahead

in Sports by

Volleyball concludes fantastic season

The women’s volleyball team officially concluded their outstanding season with a straight sets victory over Neumann in Saturday’s ECAC third place game. The team was defeated 3-1 earlier in the day by Marymount in the semifinal match.

Despite a somewhat disappointing end of the season for the squad, the team was upset in the Conference tournament and narrowly missed an NCAA Championships bid, Swarthmore’s season was a resounding success. The Garnet finished with a 24-8 overall record, sending seniors Kate Amodei and Chastity Hopkins off on a high note.

Swarthmore was a young team this year and figures to be a dominant force in the Centennial Conference for years to come. They will return all three of their All-Conference selections, Rookie of the Year Sarah Wallace ’18, libero Madison Heppe ’16 and setter Sam DuBois ’16.

Fittingly, Wallace, DuBois and Heppe led the way for the Garnet on the season’s final day. Wallace had 34 digs in the two matches, bringing her season total to an even 450. DuBois turned in double-doubles in both matches, while Heppe tallied 38 digs on the day.

Difficult first weekend for men’s basketball

Second half struggles did in Swarthmore’s men’s basketball team on two occasions last weekend. Both RIT and Bard were able to pull away from Swarthmore in the closing 20 minutes, dropping the Garnet to 0-2 in the young season. RIT won 75-65, while Bard won Sunday’s game 71-62.

Swarthmore has a very young team this year and the weekend featured some promising signs for the program. Underclassmen Chris Bourne ’17 and Matt Brennan ’18 paced the team in both games. Bourne averaged nearly a double-double for the weekend, racking up 16 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game, while Brennan showed promise in the backcourt, leading the team in assists and steals, while also tallying 11.5 points per game. Guard Sam Lebryk ’17 showed marked improvement from last season by scoring 9.5 points per game, roughly doubling last season’s average of 4.8 points per game.

Swarthmore opens Centennial Conference play this week with a couple of interesting tests, as they face the two teams picked to finish immediately ahead of them in the standings. On Saturday, Swarthmore travels to Gettysburg, before hosting Ursinus for its conference home opener Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Kakkar qualifies for NCAA Championships in Cross Country

Sid Kakkar ’17 paced Swarthmore’s cross country team at Saturday’s NCAA Regional meet, finishing with a time of 25:40.9. Kakkar qualified by finishing 19th out of 343 runners at the meet. He will have a chance to compete against the nation’s best on Saturday in Mason, Ohio. Kakkar was named to the All-Mideast Region Team his freshman year and figures to garner similar honors at the conclusion of this season.

Kakkar’s performance highlighted a strong overall showing from both the men’s and women’s teams. The men finished sixth out of 47 teams and were led by Kakkar, Jonas Oppenheimer ’15 and Erick White ’15.

On the women’s side, Swarthmore finished fifth out of 52 teams. The squad was paced by Indy Reid-Shaw ’17, Liz Tawa ’15 and Sarah Nielsen ’16.

The team narrowly missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, meaning that the focus of many of the runners will shift to training for track and field. Expect Tawa to lead the Garnet in the spring, as the senior will look to build off of a breakout 2014 season in which she was named to the All-Conference First Team in three events.

Volleyball drops heartbreaker

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Sarah Wallace ’18 contributed 20 kills, four aces and two blocks in the match against Haverford this past Saturday.

After a heart-breaking Garnet Weekend, the women’s volleyball team must look to rebound if they hope to bring home a Centennial Conference title.

The Garnet came into Saturday’s match undefeated in conference play, as they hosted a second-place Haverford team with both the regular season title and the honor of hosting the conference tournament on the line. Playing on their own court with 275 people in attendance, there would have been nothing better than to beat Haverford to wrap up a perfect season.

Unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to get off on the right foot. While they battled hard, it was clear they didn’t have their best stuff and they quickly fell into an 0-2 hole. Even with their self-proclaimed sub-par performance, they kept it very close, dropping both sets 23-25.

Head Coach Harleigh Chwastyk admitted, “We know we didn’t collectively play our best … this might have been the case where we felt the pressure and we played like that.”

But the Garnet were not about to roll over that easy in front of their home crowd. They hung tough and grinded out a win in the third set. Then, in the fourth set they pulled out a very close 28-26 win to even the match (2-2). Chastity Hopkins ’15 and Bridget Scott ’18 were instrumental in closing the door in the fourth set as they combined for the last three points.

With the Garnet front line firing on all cylinders the crowd gained life, screaming and cheering for every block and big kill the team had. The Garnet showed enormous resiliency, both mentally and physically, pushing the match into the fifth set.

When asked what changed heading into the third set, Sarah Wallace ’18 put it bluntly, “Our team has always been a fighting team, so I think that we simply refused to lose 0-3 in our home gym.”

The Garnet would eventually go on to drop the last set, but it was the fight and determination the team showed throughout the match that stood out in the loss.

Playing on what could have been their last game in Tarble Pavilion, Hopkins recorded a career high 21 kills while fellow senior Kate Amodei contributed 11 digs.

Maddison Heppe ’16 led the team with 21 digs while Sam DuBois ’16 led with 35 assists. Wallace put up a great performance, as is becoming her standard, contributing 20 kills, four aces and two blocks.

Now the team must shift their focus and get ready for the tournament. Even though the team didn’t get the result they wanted against Haverford, making the tournament is still a huge success.

“Losing to Haverford was definitely disappointing and not how we wanted to end our regular season, but playoffs are like a brand new season where everyone has a clean slate. Making it to the conference tournament has been our goal from day one, so everyone is really excited for this opportunity,” said DuBois.

Perhaps this loss will give the team some extra motivation heading into the tournament as well.

Heppe confirmed this saying, “This weekend we just got to go play hard and get in our groove. We know we can do it. We want to beat those squirrels on their home court!”

Furthermore, the loss may have lifted the pressure of trying to protect a perfect season and the number one seed, allowing the team to play more free and relaxed. A loss now is certainly better than one in the tournament.

Even Chwastyk seemed to recognize this. “The pressure is not on us. We are both 9-1 and we have to go there next weekend. So we are just going to watch some film and find a few little things to tweak,” she said.

The Garnet head to Haverford this Saturday as the No. 2 seed, where they will face No. 3 seed Muhlenberg. In their previous meeting earlier this season the Garnet defeated the Mules 3-0, handing them only their second loss of the season. If Haverford wins their game on Saturday, the two teams could meet again in the championship on Sunday for what would most likely be an exceptional rematch.


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