Favorite athlete: Julie Ertz
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Watching my friend win the 100 backstroke as a freshman at States last year. Insane.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: “I was defending someone during a soccer game and got a charley horse. I fell over, which gave them a breakaway to score the winning goal.
Music on mobile device: 2000s throwbacks, country, classic rock, rap
Future plans: Attend college to major in Biology or Health Sciences in hopes of pursuing a career in the medical field.
Words to live by: “It’s all about the journey, not the outcome” -Carl Lewis
One goal before turning 30: Invent something and turn it into a side business
One thing people don’t know about me: I love ripsticking and make really good guacamole
By Craig Ostroff
Laura Pendleton will never forget the feeling of having a PIAA Championship gold medal placed around her neck. She considers it one of the greatest accomplishments of her swimming career.
The fact that she wasn’t actually a member of Upper Dublin’s gold medal-winning 400 freestyle relay team does not, in any way, lessen the significance of the moment for her.
To the then-freshman, the gesture made by the medal-winning foursome highlights the team atmosphere that Pendleton cherishes about the Flying Cardinals’ girls’ swimming and diving team. For the relay members, it was a token of thanks to a swimmer without whom they might not have been competing in the event finals.
“My freshman year I swam in the 400 free relay and we qualified for states,” Pendleton explained. “Because of the schedule at states, and because sometimes you have girls swimming in an individual event right before a relay they’re in, you put different swimmers in for the prelims.”
So Pendleton competed during the preliminary heat, filling in for a teammate who swam the 100 breaststroke one event earlier. The Cardinals qualified for the finals, where Pendleton gladly handed off her spot in the relay.
“I remember crying, watching our senior dive in for the last leg of the relay, not because I was upset, but because I realized, ‘She’s got this. We’re going to win it,’” Pendleton said. “They won the gold, and following that relay, they came up to me with their medals and put them on me. My face was all red from crying.
“But that’s what being a teammate is all about. It’s not something I would be jealous about or upset about. I did my part to help the team. The other neat thing about it is that the other kids notice it. It’s something you’ve worked together to earn. That’s part of being a team player, that’s what you do for your teammates and for your team.”
It wasn’t a one-time event, either. In all three of her years on the team, Pendleton has swum in the prelims knowing she would not swim in the finals of the 400 free relay.
“Laura’s had her own individual successes in districts and states, but for three years in a row, she swam the 400 free relay in prelims knowing full well someone else was going to be subbed in for the finals,” Upper Dublin girls swimming coach Pat Redican said. “When we decided to go that way her freshman year, I sat her down and we talked about it. Her maturity in that situation as a freshman was beyond belief. She’s a student of the sport. She knows how it works, knows that’s how it’s got to be.
“I can ask her to swim wherever we need her, and she does it and does it well because she’s willing to do whatever she needs to do for the sake of the team.”
And even if she wasn’t supremely talented (which she is—she’s got numerous postseason medals as well as current and former pool and school records to prove it), it’s that selfless attitude that truly elevates the type of athlete and person Pendleton is.
It’s also part of what makes her an ideal captain for the 2019-20 Upper Dublin girls’ swimming and diving team that is seeking to extend its remarkable league championship run to 31 years and has its eye on placing swimmers, relays, and even the team atop the district and state podiums at the end of the season.
“When we need things done, Laura’s the doer,” Redican said. “All three of our tri-captains bring something different to the mix. Laura’s the one who makes sure the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. She’s the one showing them how to do it right, either by talking and sharing ideas with the girls, or just by going out there and giving it her all. Whether it’s in practice or in a meet, you know she’s going to bring that intensity and that work ethic.”
The legacy of Upper Dublin swimming can be a hefty weight on the shoulders of the swimmers. And it’s critical that the new swimmers learn early what is expected of them. It can be overwhelming, but it’s a responsibility that Pendleton and her fellow captains and seniors are eager to tackle.
“It means a lot to be named a captain,” she said. “I’ve been swimming for so long, it’s a compliment to be named one of the captains, but I take it very seriously. I want to do a good job. And it can be kind of scary - you want to continue that legacy with the league titles. Some of the freshmen don’t understand how big of a deal it is. Part of our first goal to start the year is to make them aware of it and to let everyone know that we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t overlook leagues. No one’s going to let us take it. It’s something we need to work for.”
“Throughout my career, I remember looking up to older swimmers. I remember being a freshman sitting on the bleachers and having that senior class explain it to us. You sit down and, ‘This is the deal, this is our legacy,’ and suddenly you’re sitting there like, ‘Oh no, what am I getting myself into?’ Three years later, you don’t want to intimidate the younger kids. You want them to feel comfortable, but you want them to know what being on this team is all about. You want to make sure you’re there for them, to be a role model and be someone they can look up to and come to if they need to.”
Pendleton assumed the same role in the fall as a captain on the girls’ soccer team, though her role was much different. After two varsity seasons of winning records and district appearances (not to mention an undefeated league record in her sophomore season), this year’s soccer team found itself a young, inexperienced group following the graduation of last season’s large senior class.
Rather than leading her team to postseason successes, Pendleton—along with co-captain Julia Eustace—was counted on to help mold the young unit, keep the players focused, and develop team unity and chemistry … and perhaps most importantly, keep everyone working toward a common goal of team improvement, even if the results didn’t show on the scoreboard.
As far as coach Chuck Gesing is concerned, there aren’t many kids better suited for such an assignment than Pendleton.
“Laura is so mature and such a good communicator,” he said. “She understands what it takes to be successful. One of the most important things we had to do this year was instill a real team culture, make the younger players feel welcome, let them know that while we compete for playing time, we respect each other and treat each other like a family. We were able to do that this year and Laura was a big part of it.”
While the knowledge that this would be a rebuilding year and the role of the captains and veteran players would be different than in years past, Pendleton was up to the challenge.
“It was a completely different team than it had been,” she said. “It’s tough for it to be your senior year, where you want to have your best year, but you need to take a step back and figure out how we’re going to develop as a team. I think we set a foundation for the next couple of years for this team. Our main goal this year was to get along, to come together as a team.
“You want the younger players to have fun, but it’s not fun when you’re not winning games. And we were losing games we should have been winning. But all the girls responded well, we saw changes, saw people improve all over the field, and we finished off the season a lot better. We were a work in progress this season. We wanted to make districts and that didn’t happen, but I’m proud of what this team did. And I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in the next couple years.”
While Pendleton played much of her soccer career at center back, the loss of so many starters left the team with holes to fill all over the field. It’s no surprise that when her coach needed someone to fill in anywhere on the field, Pendleton was the player he asked.
“Laura is extremely flexible in where she can play, and she’s always putting the team first,” Gesing said. “She could have said, ‘I want to play forward,’ and she could have been our leading scorer. But her selflessness allowed us to play her all over, sometimes it would change during the games. We need a goal, she moves up on offense. Her willingness to do that really separates her from a lot of players.”
Pendleton finished the season as the Flying Cardinals’ second-leading scorer. And while the Cards managed a winning league record (7-6-1), they ended up in the lower half of the conference and finished with a sub-.500 overall record.
That didn’t stop Pendleton from being recognized as a First-Team All-League selection.
“That was cool, and it’s definitely something I’ve worked for,” she said. “I think you tend to stand out more when you’re playing one position, so it’s neat to have gotten that when I was playing all over the field this year. In the end, though, those things are nice, but I just wanted to be out there being a leader for the younger kids and helping us improve.”
“She’s a name everyone knew, no matter where she was on the field,” Gesing said. “The real key to Laura’s character, which a lot of kids don’t understand, is she’s willing to sacrifice her own personal goals for the sake of being the leader that the team needs her to be, and she’s still able to play to the level that impresses the rest of the league and she’s able to come out with personal honors.”
Pendleton is as impressive in the classroom as she is in the pool and on the soccer pitch. She’s carrying numerous AP-level classes this year, is on the board of the National Honor Society, and has participated in several other service and academic clubs throughout her high school years.
She’s still looking at “a long list” of colleges, though she knows she wants to pursue a degree in Biology or Health Sciences. And while she would love to continue swimming or soccer on the club level, she’s come to accept that her competitive careers will end when she hangs up the swim cap for the last time at Upper Dublin.
But that’s still a ways away. In the meantime, there’s still unfinished business … quite literally. This year’s motto for the girls’ swimming and diving team is “Unfinished Business,” and the team is looking to improve on its past successes in districts and states.
“We have a lot of motivation this year,” Pendleton said. “And the team this year is very close. I’ve been training with some of these girls my entire swim career. We know how to train with each other and push each other. We’re all reaching for one goal. We’ve set high expectations for ourselves, but I truly do think they’re within reach for us.”
One of those goals just might find Pendleton atop the 400 free relay podium with her own medal this year. Or perhaps a medal in an individual event, or another relay. Only time will tell.
But however her swimming career ends, she will walk away having left an indelible mark on not one, but two programs.
“Laura has a maturity and a knowledge of the sport that you don’t see from kids her age very often,” Redican said. “From the time she was a freshman, she had that maturity and was always trying to learn and to improve. She’s a talented swimmer, she’s a great leader and a great example for the younger kids to look up to, both because of her intensity and work ethic, and because of her willingness to do whatever we ask her to do to help the team.”
“If you’re asking me what separates Laura from other athletes, it’s her selflessness, her willingness to work even when it might not always be in her best interest personally,” Gesing said. “Yes, she’s a fantastic athlete. She’s a great leader. But the thing that really separates her is the selflessness and the willingness to keep working and keep doing what’s best for the team.”
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