Heading into the 2016 DIAA State Swimming Championships, Appoquinimink’s Josephine Marsh was on track for her best swim yet in the 100 butterfly. Having finished in 56.72 in the preliminary round, Marsh swam a personal best in the finals with a 55.95, 0.77 seconds faster than second-place finisher Marie Dickson from Ursuline.
However, setting the fastest time was the furthest thing from Marsh’s mind.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it, this is my senior year, I had already gotten the best time in prelims, I didn’t really stress out about anything, I just wanted to have fun my last year,” Marsh said. “I didn’t have any pressure to do well for colleges or anything, I just wanted to swim and have fun, and I’m really happy that I got to swim with one of my [Delaware Swim Team] teammates, Marie Dickson. We got to swim both prelims and finals together, so it was nice to see her hard work pay off too, and it was nice we both dropped times.”
Enjoying the success of others while being amazed by her own says a lot about Marsh’s character. For her efforts this season, Marsh was named the 2016 All-State Girls’ Swimmer of the Year.
One of Marsh’s strong suits is her humility, former teammate and now head coach of Appoquinimink’s girls’ team Marina Ventresca said.
“You would think that most kids that have the amount of talent that she has, they might try to show off and rub it in other people’s faces, but she is the most humble person I’ve ever met,” Ventresca said. “She would never say ‘I’m the best swimmer in the state,’ she would put more emphasis on the team as a whole.”
Marsh herself said her humility comes from knowing what it is like to not finish first.
“I think one of the things I think about is I was in everyone else’s place a few years ago,” Marsh said. “I didn’t podium my freshman year, and that was really discouraging for me, so I know what it’s like to lose, what it’s like to have bad meets and everything, and I don’t want to rub it in people’s faces that I’ve done well.”
Her humility extends to making sure the team is as strong as it can be. Appoquinimink boys’ head coach Dave Shinton, who has worked with Marsh, said she would request not to swim in as many events in small meets so as to give her teammates a chance to get their race form down so they could be prepared for the state meet.
Shinton said Marsh is one of the most determined people he knows.
Despite having a heavy workload at school, she swims morning practices several times a week.
“She’s extremely determined to do what she sets forth,” Shinton said. “When she sets a goal, she does everything in her power to make sure that goal is reached.”
It is that strong character that has led Marsh to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., where she will study engineering. In order to get into West Point, a candidate must be nominated by their congressmen. Marsh was interviewed by the Delaware delegation, as well as by retired military personnel.
“Going into my junior year, the summer before my junior year, I hadn’t really thought about going to any of the service academies,” she said. “I had gotten a couple things in the mail from them, but they weren’t really on my radar until I had spoken with the coaches from West Point at my summer meeting before junior year. They told me about the daily life of cadets, and I realized that it’s not that different from what I am doing now.”
Marsh takes pride in her race starts. She said it is the “little things” like not dropping her feet or arching her back too much for her backstroke start, that really add up to a good start.
Wender said Marsh’s starts will work well at the college level.
“It’s a weapon that not everyone takes advantage of and it has the ability to really be a game changer in terms of setting people up coming off the wall in their races,” Army head coach Mickey Wender said. “It’s almost like a fifth stroke— there’s fly, back, breast and free, and then there’s the underwater kick. You can see at the NCAA level, not as much at the Olympic level because it’s done in a bigger pool in long course meters, but in the short course pool, the ability to kick out and have that as a weapon is really important.”
Marsh’s character has been tested outside of the pool.
In December 2014, her 14-year-old sister Victoria was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that developed in her leg.
Wender said he admired how Josephine Marsh worked with her family through the trying time.
“There’s a depth to her character,” he said. “There’s a way that she interacted and talked to us about her sister, her family situation and dealing with a life-threatening illness, the things her sister’s dealing with, how Josephine worked with her family through that, the way that strengthened her character and the way she talks about her family, I think that those were the sort of things that impacted me.”
While Victoria’s cancer is not in remission, and she had to have her leg amputated, she is improving.
“I think that really brought us together,” Marsh said of her family’s reaction to Victoria’s illness. “When she was in the hospital, we were always visiting her, we would have dinner together, just things like that. After her diagnosis, we really got extremely close, we really cherished our time together because you never know what can happen.”