If you were to ask a high school senior student-athlete if they would turn down an opportunity to compete and study at a Division 1 college in favor of a Division 3 college, most would say no.
For Victoria Kirshner, the decision to attend the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York instead of attending the University of California, San Diego turned out to be the best one yet.
“Absolutely, I would do it again,” Kirshner said. “I learned more about myself this year than I have my entire life. I developed a winning mentality at the Academy. It’s a unique environment and I don’t think that I would have been able to learn and grow the way I have at any other school.”
Coming out of Santa Clarita Christian School, Kirshner knew she had the talent to compete at the next level, but her performance on the year surpassed expectations.
In the freshman’s first-ever NCAA meet at the USMMA Invitational, Kirshner took home first in the 100-yard freestyle (55.92) and in the 50-yard freestyle (25.29). Kirshner finished third in the 100-yard butterfly (1:02.89).
“I came in with the mindset that I wanted to dominate,” Kirshner said. “Every time I stepped up on the blocks, in practice or at the meets, I wanted to win even before I dove in.”
Kirshner also competed in two relay teams, finishing second in both the 200-yard medley relay (1:58.18) and the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:51.06).
Her performance garnered her Skyline Conference Swimmer of the Week recognition on the way to the Merchant Marine Academy’s 126-22 first meet win.
Kirshner was just getting started.
With her performance at the very next meet, the former Cardinal brought home her second honor of the season as she was named the league’s Rookie of the Week, picking up two top-10 finishes in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.
“I think it was just the will to do it for my teammates,” Kirshner said. “I turned down the opportunity to swim D-1, so I wanted to make the biggest impact that I could with every race I competed in.”
With the USMMA improving to a 5-0 record after the home meet win against St. Joseph’s-Brooklyn, Kirshner recalls the meet where she and her teammates won every single event (13 total) on the day.
Kirshner finished first in the 1000-yard freestyle (11:35.74), the 200-yard freestyle (2:08.90) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:13.47).
“I specifically remember that meet because we had the first swimmer win the first race and it kind of set the tone for a domino effect that we built off each other,” Kirshner said. “In club you’re there to better yourself, but it’s not like college where everyone on the team has one goal.”
Six days later, continuing the team’s success against non-conference foe Hunter College, the Merchant Academy was able to win 12 out of the 13 events of the day with Kirshner winning all seven of her events.
With the win, the Merchant Marine Academy improved their record to a perfect 7-0 with Kirshner taking home her second Rookie of the Year award, making it her third weekly honor of the season.
“To be honest I never thought about any accolades. I just thought about doing my best,” Kirshner said. “It was just a benefit to the kind of desire to do my best and to help the overall mindset of the team.”
At conference championships, Kirshner really turned things up and was named the Most Outstanding Performer and Rookie of the Year with her five first-place finishes in three individual events and two relays.
Winning first place in the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay along with setting a new Academy Record in the 200-yard freestyle (1:58.56) and new Conference and Meet Records in the 100-yard freestyle (54.34) and 100-yard butterfly (59.89), Kirshner struggled to put her feat into words.
“It was something that was a culmination of everything that I had done on the year,” Kirshner said.
With the Most Outstanding and Rookie of the Year award on the line, Kirshner remembers her mindset right before the 100-yard butterfly.
“My coach came up to me and said, ‘You need to win this to take the Rookie and Most Outstanding Performer of the Year.’ I took that to heart and said, ‘It’s go time.’ And I ended up stepping up to the block and well, got the award.”
Thanks to her performance at the conference championships, Kirshner was named First Team All-Skyline and received the Division 3 Metro Rookie of the Week honor.
Kirshner followed up her performance by breaking yet another Academy Record in the 50-yard freestyle at the Metropolitan Conference Championships with a time of 24.56 seconds and was tied for the best USMMA finish, placing 10th in the 100-yard freestyle (53.67).
Capping her first year at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kirshner was awarded the Julie A. Berke Rookie of the Year award as the Skyline Conference’s best female swimmer of the year along with being the Most Valuable Performer for the USMMA.
Kirshner was the conference champion in the 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard medley relay team and 400-yard freestyle relay team.
Setting the bar pretty high for herself, Kirshner has a new set of goals for next year that she sets out to surpass and accomplish.
“Next year I want to make it to nationals,” Kirshner said. “…I’m going to come in swinging, trying to beat every time that I got this year.”