COLLEGEVILLE — Swimming has been a deep passion for Natalie Dowzicky from the days she first followed her older siblings to the pool at age five.
Dowzicky, of Collegeville, soon became a standout at the Perkiomen Valley Aquatic Club, before becoming a standout at swimming powerhouse, Germantown Academy.
Yet when she made her college choice, Dowzicky chose the University of Richmond — a decision based not on athletics, but on the academic level of the school.
"I am looking to go into international studies and they have a brand new international school and really good study abroad options,' she said. "So that was my main draw to Richmond.'
But the Spiders are also known for their renowned swimming program.
Still, Richmond veteran head swim coach Matt Barany does proudly state on his website, "The program has come to set the standard for academic excellence on campus with 95 percent of the team earning a GPA of 3.0, or better, during the Spring 2013 semester. Also during the spring of 2013, the program achieved the eighth highest GPA (3.51) among Division I institutions nationally."
Dowzicky liked that.
"I was talking to the coach and he said that, especially on the women's swim team, they like to keep a high grade point average,' she said. "They had the highest last year of all their varsity teams.
"From starting my college process I was looking for somewhere where I could continue swimming, but I was mainly looking for somewhere where I could fit in academics. I am a very driven student as I am a swimmer and I didn't want to compromise either when I was looking for schools. That was a big factor.'
With her swimming resume, proficient in every stroke with the spring freestyle her favorite, Dowzicky certainly had a big pool to choose from when it came to college opportunities.
The senior was a three-time NISCA (National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association) All-American Swimmer and a USA Academic All American Swimmer. She was a three-time All Inter-Academic (Eastern Interscholastic) first team member coming into this season.
She swam the third leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay that broke the Eastern's Championship meet record, Germantown team record, and LaSalle University's pool record in February of 2013. Her Germantown girls high school swim team has been undefeated Inter-Ac Champions all four of her years in high school.
"When I first started checking out colleges, I was looking for small to medium size, near a city but not particularly in a city' she said. "I narrowed it down to three schools — Richmond, Georgetown University and Emory University — and took recruiting trips to all three. At my recruiting trip to Richmond I just could see myself there. The team was really nice, the coach was really nice.
"All three would have been good options for me. But when I sat down to make my decision, it was clear where I belonged.'
She likes that Spiders head coach Barany has been there for eight years.
"That was also something I was considering because I've been with the same GA coach (Richard Shoulberg) for seven to eight years. I wanted someone who knew the sport and could individualize practices in a way that could enhance swimming,' she said.
She started at Germantown Academy in sixth grade, following her three older siblings there, just as she had followed them to the pool. Perkiomen Valley would have been her home's school district.
"I was the youngest of four and I wanted to do what my two older brothers and my older sister were doing,' she said. "That's how I started swimming and all of my sibling had gone to GA. My oldest brother, Phil (now 26) was looking for a school that had swimming attached to it and GA just happened to be a good fit. So once he went there, we all followed.'
Before that she swam for the Perk Valley Aquatic Club for quite some years, and just about all of her friends from there went on to swim forPerkiomen Valley.
"Of course, whenever you leave a team, it's sad,' she said. "All of us are going through that now. The girls I have been with at GA, I've been swimming with since sixth grade. But, I still have some very good friends from PV that are in college now, actually, which is a scary thought. And once I left there, I still kept in touch with them, so it wasn't that I really left.
'Coming to GA was the right decision for me, academically and in the swim aspect. When I was in sixth grade I was the only swimmer that swam on the GA middle school team. But then a lot of girls I had known from the surrounding area were coming as well and we just created a very powerful grade. So the bond I had with them really helped.'
And just like her older brother Carl, now a standout on the Navy water polo team, Dowzicky is also an excellent water polo player at GA.
"Loved to play water polo as well, it was a nice break from swimming,' she said. "I broke Germantown Academy's girls team record for goals in a career — 100 total. I only played three years but I was named to first team all Inter-Ac and all Eastern Water Polo team in my senior year.'
But swimming will be her one focus in college.
As for goals, "I really wanted to be somewhere where the team is good because when I'm looking at the college level it's not so much how my times are, but how I can contribute to a team aspect,' she said. "I've been swimming for quite some time now, so I really wanted that aspect. I wanted good relays.
"As for the academic aspect, because I want to go into international studies, I would love to get experience abroad; anything that will push into the real world kind of stuff.
"Olympic trials? It will be on my mind, but I'm not going to focus my time on that. Often I see swimmers that go to college and kind of forget that the swimming world doesn't always extend past college. In college I'll think of swimming more as a team sport that we're doing for fun, rather than a cutthroat kind of deal.'
Follow Rose Ross on Twitter @RoseRoss31