John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Monopoly. Play Station. Basketball. Swimming.

When it comes to competition, it doesn’t make a difference if it takes place between two people playing a board game in the friendly confines of her home basement or in front of hundreds of frenzied fans at a nearby pool. Either way, Nazareth Academy senior Tori Gillespie aims to come out on top.

“I don’t like to lose,” Gillespie said. “I never really thought about it before, but yeah, I would say I am pretty competitive in everything I do.”

For the past four years, the graduate of Huntingdon Valley’s St. Albert the Great School has been rewriting the Nazareth Academy swimming record book. Gillespie holds the top mark in both the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard freestyle, and she was among the foursomes that established records in the 200 medley, 200 freestyle, and 400 freestyle relays. As a junior, she won the PIAA Class AA District I title in the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle.

Last year, colleges started taking particular notice. By the beginning of this year, Gillespie was struggling with the inevitable major decision that befalls top-tier athletes – where to go next?

“I thought it might be Penn State, but when I went there for a visit, it was so big,” said Gillespie. “It was overwhelming.”

Gillespie then paid a visit to the University of Delaware. Something suddenly clicked.

So on Nov. 8, with her mom, dad, and younger brothers James and Collin present in the home living room, Gillespie called the Delaware coach and announced that she had decided to become a Blue Hen.

Her new-found inner peace was palpable.

“Oh my gosh, it was such a relief,” said Gillespie. “Since the beginning of October, it was a lot of stress figuring out what to do. At Delaware, I just loved it right away. The campus is beautiful, and I am very close with my family and it was very important to me that we weren’t too far apart.”

Fifth-year Nazareth coach Ed Roussel, a 1976 graduate of Cardinal Dougherty, was ecstatic when he learned that Gillespie had made her final decision.

Describing Gillespie – one of five Nazareth team captains along with fellow seniors Kate Mays, Julie Jackson, Tess Poli and Alyssa DeTreux – as a “natural leader,” Roussel said Gillespie’s work ethic has provided motivation to younger up-and-coming swimmers such as sophomore Meaghan Harrington.

“They see how hard she works and how much that has paid off,” said Roussel. “A lot of our underclassmen look up to her. She works so hard in everything she does – sports, academics, you name it. She is modest about her accomplishments.

“She is hard on herself sometimes because she has high expectations, but as a competitor, she is as good as there is. If someone poses a threat to what she is trying to accomplish, look out, because her goal is always to eliminate that threat.”

Gillespie, who also swims for a club team in Lower Moreland and still finds time to play on St. Albert’s CYO basketball team, said she has always been interested in someday working in the medical field. Not surprisingly, she plans to major in nursing at Delaware. As for swimming, she isn’t thinking past the next four years.

In the meantime, Gillespie is not concerned about the “burn out” syndrome that often attacks collegiate athletes.

“I’ve wanted to swim in college since I was little,” said Gillespie. “Swimming is something that I love. It’s a part of me.”

And Gillespie will forever be a part of Nazareth Academy’s swimming lore.

John Knebels can be reached at