Sam Donchi and Arnold Su are both over 3,000 miles away from home, and swimming for one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
But if there’s any pressure that comes with that, the two Phillips Academy seniors don’t feel it.
In fact, the two tri-captains have helped the Big Blue enter the national conversation over the past two winter seasons.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Su, who moved from Beijing to Irvine, Calif., a couple of years ago. “It’s not like I’m the only one here who is away from home. A lot of people here are from all around the world, which is something I really appreciate.
“It’s been a diverse experience, and I’ve had the chance to learn from a lot of different people.”
The large record board that watches over the Olympic-sized swimming pool on campus has been constantly changing over the past two years.
Su was part of last year’s 200 medley relay team that broke the national high school record in short-course meters (1:41.15). He was also a part of last year’s New England record-holding 400 freestyle relay team, and earlier this season broke the New England record in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:03.91).
Donchi, a Portland, Oregon native, also has a New England record under his belt this year, recording a 57.67 in the 100 backstroke at the same meet Su notched his. As a team, Phillips broke four NE records at its meet at Loomis in late January. Last year, Donchi earned All-American status in the 200 freestyle with a 1:39.90.
That milestone highlighted the remarkable turnaround it’s been in the pool for Donchi, who committed to the University of Pennsylvania in August. Since coming to Phillips, he’s shaved nearly 15 seconds off his 200 freestyle (1:54.2 to 1:39.90), over 30 off his 500 freestyle (5:02.3 to 4:30.6) and over five off his 100 butterfly (55.0 to 49.7).
“I didn’t even want to apply (to Phillips),” said Donchi, who’s older sister, Emma, is a Phillips alum who swims for Tufts. “I had just come off a bad club season and I was like ‘(bleep) this.’ I was just going to have swimming be a lesser part of my life because the sport wasn’t going to get me too far.
“But then I got in (to Phillips), and it sort of reinvigorated my love for swimming.”
Added Phillips coach David Fox: “No one works harder than Sam, and his improvement over four years is, frankly, the stuff of legend.”
But Su and Donchi have been just two cogs on a roster full of talent.
In just that Loomis meet alone, Andover’s Yubo Jin nearly broke the New England 100 breaststroke record, while Brandon Garcia tied it in the same heat. And in the next heat, freshman Christopher Xia broke the record before Su came in and smashed his teammate’s mark by over a second.
You also had Donchi break the 200 freestyle New England record at that meet before teammate Max Hunger set a new mark minutes later.
“We have some really talented guys and a lot of depth,” said Fox. “Unfortunately, there’s no sort of national tournament. But if we took our best performances and compared them with other schools, we’d be competitive nationally in some areas.”
It’s already been a memorable season for Phillips, which is heading into the meat of their schedule which starts Saturday at the Eastern Championship.
And with Donchi and Su leading the charge, Big Blue is looking to do something special.
“We get a lot done,” said Donchi. “We’re a very focused group.”