The Oracle

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Swimmer Saskia Wong-Smith signs National Letter of Intent for Bates College

Saskia+Wong-Smith+%2718+poses+for+a+photo+with+her+Bates+pennant+after+signing+her+National+Letter+of+Intent.+She+is+Archer%27s+first+swimmer+to+commit+to+swimming+collegiately.+
Saskia Wong-Smith '18 poses for a photo with her Bates pennant after signing her National Letter of Intent. She is Archer's first swimmer to commit to swimming collegiately.

Saskia Wong-Smith '18 poses for a photo with her Bates pennant after signing her National Letter of Intent. She is Archer's first swimmer to commit to swimming collegiately.

Photo by Cybele Zhang

Photo by Cybele Zhang

Saskia Wong-Smith '18 poses for a photo with her Bates pennant after signing her National Letter of Intent. She is Archer's first swimmer to commit to swimming collegiately.

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On an average Thursday, senior Saskia Wong-Smith leaves her house at 5:15 a.m. Thirty minutes later, she is wide awake, practicing her backstroke in the Palisades High School pool.

But Thursday, Feb. 8, was a “special” day for Wong-Smith, as she signed her National Letter of Intent for Bates College, an NCAA Division III program in Lewiston, Maine. Wong-Smith is the first Archer athlete to go on to swim at the collegiate level.

A group of teachers, coaches, family and friends watched as Wong-Smith was interviewed, and they then cheered as she signed her NLI alongside senior Locke Luhnow — who is committed to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, for volleyball.

From Bruin to Panther

Wong-Smith began swimming competitively at UCLA Bruin Swim Club when she was eight.

An eight year-old Wong-Smith shows off her swimming full bodysuit. Because she was so small, her mom was afraid she would get hypothermia and forced her to wear the bodysuit. Photo courtesy of Wong-Smith.

“It was a kind of a pre-team, learning how to swim and all of the strokes,” Wong-Smith said. “Then you go to meets on the weekends.”

There, she first met Archer fitness and swim coach Stephanie Ferri and classmate Summer de Vera ’18. Ferri encouraged the two to look into attending Archer, and both girls were interested.

“We didn’t go through the process together,” de Vera said. “We both just happened to really want to go to Archer. From that, we bonded a lot.”

In middle school at Archer, Wong-Smith and de Vera helped lead the team to three consecutive Pacific Basin League championships. The two spent together in the classroom, in carpools and during club and Archer swim practice.

Everyone would get us confused. They still do,” de Vera said with a laugh.

But freshman year, Wong-Smith decided to switch clubs to Rose Bowl Aquatics in Pasadena. After one year there, she moved to Westside Aquatics, where she currently swims on their National Team, which is the top level of their Senior Group. According to the website, the National Team is for dedicated swimmers who have “achieved no less than one sectional time and are dedicated to teamwork.”

Wong-Smith practices for two to three hours every day except Sunday.

Wong-Smith and de Vera might have gone their separate ways in club swimming, but the girls still remain close. They are involved in similar extracurriculars including Peer Support and Honor Education Council and come together to represent Archer on the varsity swim team. 

Listen to the audio clip to hear de Vera talk about her “fondest” memory of Wong-Smith coming to practice wearing a full body suit when they were younger.

De Vera described it as both amazing and weird to see Wong-Smith signing to swim in college since she got to see her growth from the beginning of her swim career.

She was once the skinny little kids in the bodysuit, but now she’s the muscular girl in the Bates sweatshirt,” de Vera said. “We’re all going to be parting ways, but I’m sure we’re all going to keep in touch. We’ll hear about her successes.”

Why Bates?

Wong-Smith’s recruiting process started in the fall of her junior year. She met with Kim Smith to create a template that they could send to coaches and schools they were interested in. Wong-Smith would email schools her contact information, transcript and resume of swimming information.

“[Smith] helped us figure out what type of school we were looking for,” Wong-Smith said. “She gave us recommendations, so that was helpful getting to know what we wanted.”

She eventually decided on Bates, based on “a lot of gut feeling.”

Photo by Cybele Zhang
Wong-Smith and her parents pose for a photo during the NLI signing ceremony. She is the first Archer swimmer to plan to swim at a collegiate level.

“I don’t really know how to explain it, but I just felt like I needed to do it. I needed to make a decision, and Bates was the one that I was most drawn to,” she said. “I thought, ‘Am I making the right decision? Am I doing something wrong?’ But I decided to trust myself and do it.”

Bates, a private liberal arts college, is the oldest coeducational college in New England and the third oldest college in Maine.

Wong-Smith applied undecided but is interested in pursuing psychology or environmental sciences. She knows Archer girls and other swimmers that have either graduated or are going there now. She said they all “love it,” so she thinks she’ll be in “good hands.”

Despite her optimism, Wong-Smith has never visited campus.

“It is still a little scary, but also exciting because I’ll go in unbiased, having no expectations,” she said.

Wong-Smith said she is excited to keep swimming in college because of the sense of community that the sport has provided her.

“Swimming is about the community and having fun,” she said. “I like the sport. If I stopped doing it, I would feel weird.”

Ultimately, she feels like Bates is the right place for her.

“Everything lined up,” Wong-Smith said. “I don’t want to say fate – but it feels like it.”

Just Keep Swimming

Wong-Smith in a competition for Archer. This is the first year she is able to train with the team full-time, not just compete with them. Photo courtesy of Wong-Smith.

Although Wong-Smith has already signed her letter of intent, she still has work left to do for the Panthers. Last season, the undefeated varsity team won the Liberty League Championship for the third year in a row. Wong-Smith is currently seeking her fourth title this spring.

Because Wong-Smith’s club team sometimes practices before school, this is the first year she is able to train with Archer’s team.

This is the first time I’m getting to know [Archer] the team. In middle school, since I swam at UCLA, Summer and I would take the bus with the team, so I got to know them on the bus,” she said. “But now, this is the first time I’m actually getting to practice with them.”

Because of this increased interaction, Wong-Smith said she feels more motivated in Archer practice.

“Even in practice you know there’s something you’re going towards and with a team on your back. You’re doing it for something bigger than yourself,” Wong-Smith said. “In club, it’s still fun but you’re just doing it for yourself. You have to think about your time and how you can improve, but it’s not necessarily about doing it for the entire team.” 

Athletic Director Denny Lennon highlighted the impact that Wong-Smith has had on Archer’s swim program thus far.

“She’s completely changed the level of swimming,” Lennon said. “Saskia, and certainly Summer and some of the other seniors that are in the program, they swim so well that they put up a new bar for everybody to swim to. That’s pretty good. They’ve taken the program and risen it up.”

Being the first Archer athlete to go on to swim at the collegiate level, Wong-Smith is proud of Archer and herself.

“It feels good,” she said. “I feel proud to represent Archer this way.”

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About the Contributors
Cat Oriel, News & Features Editor
Cat Oriel joined the Oracle staff as a contributing writer in 2015, was promoted to Voices Editor in 2017 and is now the News and Features Editor. She is a part of Archer’s varsity volleyball team, co-founder of the Feed2SucceedFund Archer Chapter, a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Culture Club and is...
Cybele Zhang, Editor-in-Chief
Cybele Zhang joined the Oracle writing staff in 2015. She was promoted to Sports Editor as a sophomore and to Editor-in-Chief as a senior. Over the summer of 2016, she interned at the Asian Journal, an international Filipino newspaper. She has been part of Archer’s Dance Company since 2012, where she is the current Community...
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