One of Chicago's best has had the unique experience of seeing his team come of age with him.
Fourth-year swimmer Northe Saunders has seen quite a bit of change over the course of his career as a Maroon. When he arrived in the fall of 2000, the team had no permanent home, small numbers, and no winning tradition. He now leaves behind a thriving team with a new home in the Myers-McLoraine pool, one that finished 8-1 in dual meets this season.
Saunders helped guide this transformation, and in doing so established himself as one of the top swimmers in the history of U of C. He owns eight school records, including three individual records in the 100-, 200-, and 500-yard freestyle, and five relay marks in the 200-, 400-, and 800-yard free relays and the 200- and 800-yard medley relays. Saunders achieved All-American honors two years in a row.
But despite the plethora of awards and certificates that Saunders has won, he regards his role in helping to develop the men's swimming program as his greatest achievement.
"The improvement of the team is really what I'm most proud of," Saunders said. "The leadership role I've played, especially the last two years as captain, hopefully has guided the team towards greater success.
"It's nice to leave my mark with the records, and you always want them to last forever, but at the same time, I want the team to keep improving and break them."
After winning varsity letters in three sports in high school, swimming helped Saunders adjust to the new and different rigors of college life.
"It's been really nice to have the camaraderie of a team here in college, and also it's great to have a group of guys that I otherwise wouldn't have met to hang out with around campus," he said.
Saunders's swimming has improved each year. He earned the right to compete at the NCAA Division III National Championships twice, playing sixth in the 200-yard freestyle to win his first All-American certificate in the spring of 2004 and moving up a spot to fifth with a 1:41.13 effort in the same event this year.
"Over the course of my time here I have become a lot more dedicated to conditioning," Saunders said. "I didn't train that much in high school, so the added conditioning has really improved my swimming.
"I've also begun to appreciate swimming for the athletic endeavor involved, for something I have to work at physically. There definitely have been times after morning practices when I've been exhausted, and literally could not stay awake. But at the end of the year, it's nice to taste the fruits of your labor."
When he graduates, Saunders plans to move to Philadelphia and work on political campaigns, but intends to keep swimming in his life.
"Both my roommates next year are triathletes, so I'm considering training to compete in a triathalon," he said. "It would be cool to try and make an Olympic bid too, but it would be really tough, so I'm not sure about that. I'm certainly going to stay in shape. I'm just not sure how exactly swimming will fit in."
Regardless of the future, Saunders has left a lasting mark on the University of Chicago swimming program, one that future swimmers will be hard pressed to top. In his four years of competition, he upped the ante of expected performance, while simultaneously helping to shape a young and talented crop of new swimmers. As he moves to the next stage of his life, Chicago owes him a debt of gratitude for his dedication to and excellence within the U of C swimming program.