Pepperdine’s Standout Swimmer Wins Arthur Ashe Jr. Award

When Jenna Sanchez first splashed in the pool as an 8-year-old in Redlands, she was scared to dunk her head under the water. Fast forward 13 years, and now the 21-year-old Pepperdine Waves women’s swimming and diving team member is accomplished in and out of competitive waters. 

In recognition of that, Sanchez, a freestyle and breastroke swimmer, received the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award for the sport of women’s swimming and diving late last month. 

Sanchez, a junior, said she is excited to win the honor because she knows there are many other student athletes that could have received the recognition.

“It is really awesome,” she said. “I have never received an award of this stature before. I feel really blessed to representing Pepperdine and the swim program.” 

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, a media outlet focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in American higher education, gives the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award out to student athletes across the nation annually. The distinction recognizes minority student-athletes that have a minimum 3.5 grade point average, have been active on campus or in their communities, and are at least a sophomore academically. Diverse taps a winner from each NCAA sport. 

Pepperdine’s athletic department nominated Sanchez for the honor in February. Diverse will honor the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award winners in an issue released later this month. 

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Sanchez earned the nomination. 

Sanchez, who has a love for learning languages, is double majoring in biology and Hispanic studies and has a 3.87 grade point average. She was on two Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference-winning relay teams this season — the 200 medley and 200 free relay — which both set school records, and she was also one of five Waves that participated in the CSCAA National Invitational Championships in Indiana last month.

Sanchez broke her own school record in the 100 individual medley at the event. She was also one of the keys to Pepperdine winning its first-ever PCSC team title in February.

Sanchez is also a member of the Pepperdine’s Waves Leadership Council, a group of composed of Pepperdine athletes which along with other objectives encourages students to be involved with neighborhood and community services activities. Sanchez helps the group put together weekly athlete chapel services, a group sessions for female athletes, and other activities such as toy drives and outreach to high school students. She also has done work with the Emily Shane Foundation, which assists local, disadvantaged students with educational resources.

“Swimming is a passion of mine, and I absolutely love school — it is something that I have always enjoyed — but I think more so I enjoy forming relationships with people,” Sanchez said. “I really enjoy forming relationships with people and being a leader and just to help out where I can. I love being involved. Being able to be apart of something bigger and reach out to people has been awesome.”  

In the pool, the sprinting swimmer has earned 14 All-PCSC first-team honors — three in 2020, six in 2021, and five in 2022 — in her three collegiate seasons. She competed at the 2020 National Invitational Championships and is among Pepperdine’s all-time top 10 in four individual events. Sanchez garnered PCSC All-Academic first team status in 2021 and is a three-time Pepperdine Scholar-Athlete. 

Sanchez loved being on the Waves’ record-breaking relay teams this season and especially being the anchor of the 200 medley foursome that finished the race in the fastest time in program history. 

“The feeling of touching the wall and seeing that we won the race, and also knowing that we have broke a record, is truly priceless,” she said. “I love looking up from the water and seeing my teammates so excited and celebrating with me. Moments like those make the countless hours starting at the bottom of the pool so amazing and worth it.”

Sanchez set the Pepperdine record in the individual medley twice this season. She broke it in November with a time of 58.72 at an event in Utah, and then closed the season last month with a record time of 58.15 at the National Invitational Championships, even though she had a shoulder injury.

“Being able to do it in the first place is an accomplishment that I am always going to pride myself on, but then going through the slight hiccup with my shoulder but still finishing the season strong is something I can say I am very proud of,” she said. 

Sanchez said this past swim season was amazing because of the success the Waves had in the pool and because it was her first collegiate season that wasn’t majorly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think I have ever felt more pride,” she said. “It was just true happiness when we won conference, knowing all the hard work my teammates and myself put in. Its been so awesome to be part of such a hardworking group of women. I wouldn’t want to win a conference title with any other team.” 

Sanchez hopes she can continue to live up to the standards the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar award recognized her for. 

“I feel super excited to be honored this way and thankful that I have the opportunity to study at Pepperdine and be part of an athletics community that is tight-knit and willing to be part of something bigger and reach out to the community. It feels very cool.” 

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