A Look Back at a Remarkable Penn State Career
Senior Deirdre Dlugonski is the type of person that every coach wants on their team.
She works hard, she does what she is asked, she puts the team first, and she is a leader.
After finishing seventh in the 400-yard medley relay and 15th in the 200 freestyle relay on Thursday, Dlugonski is now a seven-time All-American. She'll leave school as one of the most decorated swimmers in school history.
And, according to head coach Bill Dorenkott, she'll leave as the best relay racer in school history.
All seven of Dlugonski's All-America honors have come by way of relays, and it is something that she takes great pride in.
"It's weird because I don't think about (the All-America awards)," she said. "I guess someday I might look back and say, 'That was awesome.' But I couldn't have told you how many awards I had. That means less to me than how we finish as a team. With the girls we have here at the NCAA Championships, I'm just looking forward to that. I'm proud of my accomplishments, but it's not everything."
"She is a special young woman," Dorenkott said. "I cannot think of the superlative to adequately describe the impact that Dee has had on her teammates, coaches or our program."
Dlugonski, who is making her fourth appearance at the NCAA Championships, has had a remarkable career for the Nittany Lions. Along with her seven All-America awards, she is a seven-time Big Ten Champion (all relays), as well as a three-time Big Ten record-holder, a four-time NCAA qualifier, a four-time All-Big Ten first team member, and an owner of six Penn State school records (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 medley relay, 400 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay).
While Penn State swimming and diving will continue to be successful, Dlugonski will be sorely missed in and out of the pool next season for more reasons than just her success in it.
"It has been gratifying to see Dee have a strong senior year," Dorenkott said. "She has set a gold standard for leadership within our program."
Aside from her accomplishments in the pool, Dlugonski has excelled in the classroom as well. She is certain to pick up her third straight Academic All-Big Ten award with a 3.95 Grade Point Average in Kinesiology (Freshman are not eligible for the award, or she would have four). And she is also a three-time College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Academic All-America honoree.
"I guess neither (the classroom nor the athletic accomplishments) make me prouder than the other," Dlugonski said. "But I can tell you that I had more fun in the pool. I'm just as pleased of both because I worked hard for everything that I had in the pool, and everything I had in the classroom. I'm not the most talented swimmer, and I'm not the best student, but I've worked hard for everything I have and that's what I'm most proud of."
Dlugonski says she may not remember her accomplishments in the pool, or in the classroom, as she enters the working world this summer. But she will remember some things, and she will look back fondly on her career as a Nittany Lion.
"I really don't think that I'm going to remember what place we got, and I'm definitely not going to remember what time we went," she said.
"I will remember the girls that were here with me, and just the impact that people had on my life, people like my coaches and teammates."
Dlugonski, who has also served as a team captain for the past three seasons, wasn't the most highly recruited swimmer out of high school.
She took four recruiting visits - One each to Maryland, Penn
State, Purdue and Villanova.
She was sold on Penn State as soon as she took her visit.
"When I was at Penn State, the team was awesome," she said. "I felt comfortable. I felt like it was a place that I could fit in. I was unheralded coming out of high school, and schools weren't really searching after me. But Bill believed in me already. I didn't understand that at the time. And now I believe that he had this all pictured out in his head, and I didn't know that at the time. It was cool to have someone believe in me when I didn't even know what I could accomplish."
Dlugonski couldn't be happier to be ending her collegiate career with 15 of the 25 women's swimmers representing Penn State at the NCAA Championships, the most in school history. But it makes her even happier that her parents could make their first trip to the NCAA Championships in her final season. With four younger brothers, it always made it difficult for Dlugonski's parents to make the trip.
Dlugonski will compete in several other events this weekend, and she has a legitimate shot at an eighth All-America honor on Friday in the 200 medley relay. It's something she is very much looking forward to because she knows that it helps the team accomplish the goals that it sets out.
"I'm just so happy that I was given the opportunity, and it really is the opportunity of a lifetime, to be on these relays," Dlugonski said. "I've had the privilege of anchoring so many relays and accomplishing things that I wouldn't have been able to do myself. I think I've been successful because I know I'm not doing it for myself, I'm doing it for three other girls and the whole team that is there. And it helps that I am representing Penn State."
"Dee Dlugonski is the epitome of what Penn State Athletics is all about," Dorenkott said. "She is an unselfish, work-ethic driven individual who shuns individual glory for team success."