Championship chemistry

Maya Schwickert in the pool

Schwickert excels in her first year at TWU

April 29, 2024 – DENTON – As long as she can remember, Maya Schwickert’s life has revolved around creativity and curiosity.

Both run in her family. Her siblings compete in artistic swimming or diving, sports that are not about getting there first but are judged on style and degree of difficulty, and Maya began performing artistic swimming when she was 4 years old.

Her curiosity in how the world works stems from her German-born parents, who each have a PhD in physics. In Maya's case, a child’s natural inquisitiveness morphed into something much more investigative.

And as she concludes her freshman year at Texas Woman's University, Schwickert is already a champion artistic swimmer, an award-winning chemistry student, and an accomplished mathematician.

"She's everything you want as a coach," TWU artistic swimming coach Barb Nesbitt Ng said. "She's just a great kid, and a really hard worker. I'm excited for her journey to see where she ends up."

It's a good question, in and out of the pool.

Maya Schwickert

Schwickert’s curiosity is unbridled. While she's majoring in chemistry with a minor in mathematics, she isn't committed to any branch of chemistry. Consider some of the topics of her science projects:

  • "Seaweed Blue Light Filter: Light Spectrum, Analysis of Seaweed Thin Films for LEDs"
  • "Difficulty in Artistic Swimming: Difficulty as an Objective Judging Category"
  • "A Better Way to Approach School Pick Up: A School Traffic Simulation"
  • "Glass and Metal: Can they Fuse?"
  • "Dissolving Gelatin after High-Performance Synchro"

Clearly, she's considering a variety of interests and potential futures.

"I'm not necessarily thinking of doing research right out of college," she said. "I'm actually thinking of joining the FBI. That's my plan as of now. I know they're really competitive."

So is Schwickert. She received the 2022 Yale Science and Engineering Association Award and the Organic Chemistry Student of the Year at her high school, BASIS Scottsdale, a public charter school that is one of the highest rated in the nation and emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"My school was very STEM based, so I took chemistry classes in seventh grade," Schwickert said. "I've been doing science fairs since seventh grade. It was really cool to see everybody else's projects. Just seeing what everybody else was really interested in and applying it to the real world got me more interested."

So much so that science has overtaken swimming in her priorities.

"If I were to win first at the International Science Fair, I think that would be a lot bigger of a win for me than swim," she said. "And obviously I do think that winning in swim is really, really important. But I guess I would choose science fair because I feel like it would just be more substantial. I know swimming only takes me so far and I'm probably only going to be doing it for the next three years."

It's that realization that her competitive artistic swimming career will end when her eligibility ends that ramps up the urgency to capture gold at the U.S. Collegiate Championships.

And she wants that gold medal.

"Well, I would hope so," she said. "If I keep putting in the work I'm putting in now or more, I feel like it's possible."

Past results suggest it is very possible. Schwickert won the Senior High Point Individual Award at the US Junior/Senior Nationals three consecutive years, 2021-23. In 2024, Schwickert became the first TWU artistic swimmer to medal at the U.S. Collegiate Championships when she captured bronze in the solo category. TWU earned third place in the overall competition, the best finish in program's four-year history.

Formerly known as synchronized swimming, artistic swimming is a mix of swimming, gymnastics and dance. At the high school level, it's a club sport, and there's a mix of varsity and club teams at the collegiate level. What’s remarkable about artistic swimming, however, is that nowhere in athletics is the playing field more level.

Only a handful of colleges offer the sport, including giants like Ohio State, Florida and Michigan. By comparison, TWU's total undergraduate and graduate enrollment is less than the freshman class at any of those three schools.

Yet that stunning size disparity does not translate to super-power domination. At this year's national championships, it was Incarnate Word – a small but well-funded private school in San Antonio – that captured the team championship. TWU bested fourth-place Ohio State, and accumulated more points than Florida and Michigan combined.

Schwickert's arrival at TWU was a dream scenario for Nesbitt Ng in her first year at the helm of TWU's young program this season.

Recruiting is a grueling years-long process, and first-year coaches frequently don't have time to bring in their own athletes before their inaugural season. Such was the case for Nesbitt Ng. In 2023-24, she had to play the hand she'd been dealt.

Then she learned that Schwickert was joining her program.

A first-year coach landed one of the top prospects in the nation without doing any recruiting.

This. Never. Happens.

"I guess multiple reasons," Schwickert said of her decision to attend TWU. "My duet partner, Makayla Crichton, is the first senior of our artistic swimming team, and we used to swim together at our club in Arizona, and we've known each other since 2012. I wanted to get another year with her because she's grown this program. But also, I'm really more drawn to the smaller university. I was looking at universities that have artistic swimming, and many of the ones that do are huge. With a smaller university I know all my professors. I think my biggest class only has 30 kids in it, rather than a massive university like Ohio State. This is better for me because then I get to know my professors. That's how I got into research with Dr. Kohan (Nasrin Mirsaleh-Kohan, PhD) because I could actually talk to her. That's more valuable for me."

Whatever the reason, Nesbitt Ng was thrilled.

"I'm sleeping pretty well right now," she said. "I knew it might take a couple years, coming here and knowing that I had no part in the recruiting process the first year. Maya just appeared for me. If I had been here, she would have been top of the list, that's for sure. Maya was competing at the junior Pan Am championships as part of Team USA (where she earned a silver medal). She was the top recruit last year, and so to have her come to this program, that's tremendous. Having someone like Maya come in as a freshman was kind of a big deal in our sport. She's made waves, if you will, so having a big name come in is quite a big deal."

Schwickert quickly became a really big deal at the U.S. Collegiate Championships. With a star athlete in hand but still in the process of building team depth, Nesbitt Ng placed Schwickert in the solo competition to maximize her impact.

"There's a little bit of strategy in collegiate artistic swimming as far as where you place athletes to score points," Nesbitt Ng said. "You don't get as many points in the solo category because it's only one athlete. The team category is where you're going to score the most points. But I knew Maya could potentially place pretty high. I knew that this program had never won a medal, and that was pretty high on my list for this program. I wanted to see if we could really make that happen."

Maya Schwickert in the pool

As opposed to some sports, there's no playing defense in artistic swimming. You post a score, then wait to see if you earned a spot on the podium. Schwickert swam third in a field of 16.

"I put my best foot forward," she said. "I was proud of myself regardless of the score, regardless of what place I got. Then it's just a waiting game. There's a bit of suspense afterwards, but once everybody swam and you hear the final score, it's like, wow, that was one of the best swims I've ever done. One of the best swims that my coaches thought I've ever done. Then seeing the placement was just a really amazing experience."

Something else happened that Schwickert didn't foresee. Something athletes in traditional team sports take for granted.

"Before I swim, my coach likes to huddle us up in a big group and tell the soloists you're not just one person in the water," Schwickert said. "You're all 15 of us in the water. You have support from your teammates. They have my full support, and I have their full support. We all put in a lot of work in order to get here. I guess it's a lot of pride, because not many people get to have this experience. Walking up to the podium, it was like, this is TW. I'm TW. This is great. I guess just a lot of school spirit because I've never competed for a school. It was always club, so I never had that experience of, this is my school. I'm so proud of my school. I'm really happy to be here. And I guess it's just really different. So it's cool."

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Page last updated 2:17 PM, April 24, 2024