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Savannah Xu Takes Advantage of Everything Division III Athletics has to Offer

Savannah Xu Takes Advantage of Everything Division III Athletics has to Offer

After high school, sophomore All-American swimmer Savannah Xu was burnt out and not sure she would continue swimming. When she decided to continue her career at Carnegie Mellon University, she didn't have very high expectations for herself but wanted to enjoy whatever came before her.

With hard work and no expectations of how her first two years would go, Xu was pleasantly surprised with her success.

"My mindset was 'I'm going to join the team, have fun, meet amazing people, and see what I can do'," Xu explained. "And obviously it was amazing, and I got fast times, which was very unexpected. It was an amazing season."

Xu set three pool records in her first collegiate meet and currently holds three individual school records and is part of two relay records. She also became the first two-time University Athletic Association (UAA) Champion for the Tartans since 2000 when she won both individual medley events in her first year.

One of the reasons that Xu decided to continue swimming in college is because of all the merits that Division III athletics offers. She ultimately was drawn to CMU both because of its athletics and its elite information systems program.

"Division III swimming is worth it—for me, it's the perfect balance of school and athletics," Xu said. "It's whatever you make out of it."

The main thing that drew Xu to Division III swimming is the flexibility. Since Division III athletes aren't required to train over the summer, Xu takes full advantage of other things CMU has to offer.

"I have the opportunity to do things that I want to do from the bottom of my heart," Xu said. "I don't have to miss out on college opportunities."

This summer, Xu is going to a small island country in the Pacific called Palau through a program with CMU. There, she will be doing a tech consulting internship for ten weeks where she will work with the Ministry of Education to integrate technology into the schooling there. Although Xu isn't required to train for swimming over the summer, she plans to spend some time in a weightlifting gym and possibly even swim in the open water.

"I'm super glad I chose CMU—I would have otherwise not known about this country and this program, which is super amazing," Xu said, "I'm just looking forward to experiencing everything and getting scuba certified and all that fun stuff."

This isn't the only program that is in the works for Xu. She also plans to live and learn at CMU's Qatar campus in the fall.

"The beauty of Division III swimming is 'yes, you're coming here to swim, but you can also study abroad'," Xu said. "Qatar is something new—completely novel. I want to experience it. I don't know when else I'd go to Qatar."

Although Xu will have to miss fall training back in Pittsburgh, she plans to swim at the pool on campus in Qatar.

Just because Division III athletics is flexible doesn't mean that Xu and other athletes don't take it seriously. Xu balances practice, lifting, and meets with her rigorous academics. One thing that helps get her through it is her teammates. The swimming and diving team does its best to make sure that upperclassmen not only serve as role models for underclassmen, but actively support them.

"The entire senior class was amazing when I was a freshman," Xu said. "One really, really sweet team moment to see was at nationals when I finished prelims of my 200-yard backstroke, and I went under two minutes for the first time."

Xu broke the school record, beating out previous record holder Bonnie Wang, who was in the stands. Wang cheered for Xu along with the rest of the team.

"After I broke it, I looked to the stands to find Bonnie, and then I did a little heart," Xu said. "It was so sweet."

And it's not just her own teammates that are supportive—even athletes from other schools are supportive. Xu has become friends with sophomore Kaley McIntyre from NYU, the 2024 NCAA Division III Women's Swimmer of the Year.

"Division III swimming introduced me to a bunch of elite athletes," Xu said. "I see Kaley at UAAs and we text good luck. It's always really supportive."

Another thing that gets Xu through the hard work of being a student-athlete is the mindset that her parents instilled in her.

"My parents immigrated from China with literally two suitcases and a determination to settle down in America," Xu shared. "Their story instilled in me a determination that I can do hard things. Pretty much every time I call them, they're like 'We're super proud of you, don't be so hard on yourself'."

That's the mindset that Xu has when it comes to swimming. She makes sure to remind herself why she's doing this in the first place: to have fun.