South Korea native Dawson Lee makes immediate impact with Chartiers Valley swimming

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Sunday, February 25, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Back in the fall, Chartiers Valley swimming and diving coach Morgan Soulia received a message from an aspiring high school swimmer.

It was from a junior named Dawson Lee, who recently had moved nearly 7,000 miles away from home.

“I got an email from him and he was like, ‘Hi, my name is Dawson and I’d like to swim.’ I had no idea what kind of talent we would be receiving,” Soulia said.

Little did she know, the Seoul, South Korea, native would transition swimmingly to his new home, which correlated to an exceptional season in the water — qualifying for every WPIAL event in the swimming championships.

Sometimes moving school districts can be hard enough for student-athletes, let alone picking up and living all the way across the globe, but Lee acknowledged that the transition was smooth and actually one of necessity.

“Coming to Pittsburgh is something I needed: a break from the bustling city of Seoul and embracing the suburban lifestyle,” Lee said. “Everyone has made me feel welcome and has helped me acclimate to a brand-new environment.”

Moving to the U.S. allows Lee the opportunity to do something he would not be able to back home.

“Coming from a school which didn’t have enough people for a high school swim team to having one was definitely a new feeling for me,” he said. “My teammates, especially the boys, have accommodated me well throughout the season.”

While Lee’s family does intend on moving to the country in the near future, he has been warmly welcomed by another family in the Chartiers Valley School District that is home to a former Colts basketball player.

“I am currently under the care of the Malcolms,” Lee said of the family, whose daughter, Aislin Malcolm’s career with the Colts girls basketball team saw them win three WPIAL titles and a PIAA crown. She now dons the Pitt Panthers’ blue and gold.

Just as Malcolm looks to make her mark in Oakland, so will Lee as he will compete in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke at Pitt’s Trees Pool on Feb. 29 and March 1.

Even though Lee was out of the water since last February, continual training six days a week has gotten him back into shape. With the help of Soulia and Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics coach Dave Schraven, Lee has improved upon his techniques, especially those for his two events he will swim in the coming weeks.

“I have worked on mainly improving the hand entry as well as stroke tempo but have yet to improve on my breakouts, dives and turns,” Lee said about his 50 free. “The 100 back I have worked on and am also currently working on my underwaters, proper kick technique, and head position.”

As Lee’s work has established him as an elite swimmer for the Chartiers Valley boys team, he has found support from others in the program, including Maddie Hansen on the girls team, who regularly takes Lee to training every day after school.

Hansen will join Lee at the WPIAL meet, as she qualified for the 200 individual medley.

“This is something that she’s been working for the last four years,” Soulia said. “I’ve known her through club swimming, and she’s really grown into a phenomenal leader and swimmer this year. She has really dove in head first into wanting to pick an event and focusing on it.”

Along with the 200 IM, Hansen will also be one of the legs in the Colts’ 400 free relay team. She’s accompanied by Grace Sothergill, Jaylynn Welch and Ashley Theil.

Last year’s Colts’ freestyle relay finished 12th in Class 2A. However, Hansen replaces Janelle King this time around as the quartet qualified with a time of 4:06.09.

For Welch, competing in this race at the district event will be something that she’ll cherish.

“That relay is extra special because the other three legs are seniors, and they will have wonderful lasting memories and end their final swim season on a great note,” Welch said.

Welch is also part of the 200 medley relay team that includes Anisha Pai, Kelsie Thiel and Sothergill that made the cut with a time of 2:01.75.

“The three girls in this relay were a big asset to the team and relay because of their hard work and dedication to get the cut,” said Welch, who swims the breaststroke leg in the medley.

For any medley team, it is always a challenge to find the right configuration with four different swimmers and what they can provide. The Colts had their share of trials and tribulations before they found the perfect four.

“The medley is hard because we have to piece four different strokes together and figure out who’s best fit for those spots,” Soulia said. “Everybody did a great job of being humble knowing that anybody could have gone in those spots; it was just a matter who was putting up the best times.

With Welch making up one of those spots in the medley, she also will take part in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke individual events.

“She is a workhorse and will do any and everything it takes to get the times she needs,” Soulia said. “I’m really proud of the swimmer she’s turned into. She’s only been swimming competitively for two to three years. It’s really impressive how far she has come.”

This season has turned into an eye-opening experience for the sophomore.

“Having only one year of swimming under my belt freshman year, I was unsure of my abilities,” Welch said. “I increasingly became more comfortable in the water and noticed my times were rapidly dropping. This season, I gained more passion for the sport and confidence in myself which is starting to pay off.”

As the WPIAL meet looms, the Colts feel prepared, and it helps when Soulia is there to boost their confidence.

“There is no better feeling than hearing your coach cheer louder than anyone else in the building,” Welch said. “Our team has been very supportive of each other, and all of our swimmers have improved considerably throughout the season.”

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