Every younger sibling, at one point in her life, has done something just like her older sibling. Whether it’s the product of an internal desire to follow in her footsteps or the result of a willingness to alleviate the pressures of a busy schedule, siblings will engage in similar activity for one reason or another.
For senior swimmer Carly Schnabel, a combination of both led her to the water. A softball player and ballet dancer growing up, she made the transition to the pool to follow in the footsteps of her older sister. Friendly competition and sibling rivalry served as a primary motivator for Schnabel, using her sister as the mark to strive towards in all athletic pursuits.
“She was an amazing swimmer,” Schnabel recalled. “But I kept doing it while she was doing it until I actually started making my own progress.”
Schnabel quietly developed into a college-level athlete with the potential to be a back-end talent for a Division I program. She chose Northeastern because of its proximity to home – Wrentham, Mass., 30 miles south – and because she believed it would give her room to grow.
“We recruited her kind of more of a depth person rather than a starter or someone in a starring role,” recalled head coach Roy Coates.
Schnabel was the first to admit that outside expectations regarding her performance were tempered upon arrival.
“I was a backstroker who would be lucky just to make the conference roster,” she remembered. “I knew if I worked really hard, I had the potential to be better than I was coming in, and if the coaches believed in me and I put the work in, I would improve.”
A determined freshman, Schnabel put up impressive times in individual sprint freestyle and backstroke events. Strong showings in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyle at the 2016 CAA Championship meet indicated this was just the beginning as she transitioned from backstroker to front-line freestyler. She even made a reputation for herself as the one who warms up too much.
“I like to do a quick stretch and just get in the water and go until I feel good,” she said. “Sometimes Coach [Coates] will get mad, because I might actually overwork myself.”
Months of hard work culminated in the strongest showings to date not only for Schnabel, but the entire Northeastern swimming program. The final month of her sophomore season saw Schnabel set program records in the 500-meter free (4:52.26) and the 1000-meter free (10:03.95). Schnabel cited a newfound mental technique as an additional factor in the drastic improvement in her performance: shutting out all thoughts.
“In my best races, my mind shuts off and my body takes over,” she explained. “We’ve practiced these races so many times that once we hit the water at a big meet, your body is ready. It knows what to do. So the most easy races for me were the ones where all my nervous energy just shut off and my body went into auto-drive.”
Earning a position on the 2017 All-CAA Academic Team and being named Northeastern’s Most Valuable Player capped off a historic season for Schnabel, who prides herself equally in her academic and athletic accomplishments. Sophomore teammate Emma Metzger asserted that anyone who knows Schnabel, a fourth-year political science student, knows how much effort she puts in outside of the pool.
“You definitely know that she puts a ton of hard work into her schoolwork,” Metzger complimented. “She’s one of the most hardworking people on our team.”
This trademark work ethic and dedication to both the sport and team have earned her the praise of coaches and teammates alike. Both Metzger and Coates, when asked to use one word to describe Schnabel, selected the same word: driven.
“She wants to be better and she does what it takes to be better,” Coates said. “There’s never a day she’s not clearly driven to get better.”
Upon the conclusion of a strong junior season featuring a top-five finish in the 200 freestyle relay at the CAA Championship, Schnabel was rewarded with co-captainship for her senior season. To Coates, her unparalleled work ethic predisposes her towards a natural leadership ability.
“She puts in as much effort every day as anyone on this team,” he elaborated. “One thing that really separates Schnabel from everyone else is that she’s a leader in everything we do: weight room, dry practices, and swimming. From day one, people have looked to her because nobody works as hard as Schnabel does.”
Even from her days as a follower, an undeniable determination and commitment to the sport have primed Schnabel for her final season as a Husky. Confidence could not be higher, and with her track record of constant improvement, her senior season is set to make quite the splash.
Featured image courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.