Mary Ellen Olcese had already had an extraordinary swimming career before she entered the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1969. By age 12 she had already set the National Age Group record in the 100-yard Backstroke.  Within the next two years, she held the records in the 200 Butterfly and the 200 Backstroke as well.


By age 14, Olcese was U.S. National Champion in the 400-meter Individual Medley and a member of the United States Swim Team. She saw international competition in Great Britain, Monaco, Spain, Portugal and New Zealand. During a meet with the team from Great Britain, she established a new world record in the 440-yard Individual Medley (a record she held until the event was retired in 1969).


In 1966 she was honored as the Young American of the Month in the May/June issue of the General Motors American Youth magazine.  The following year, she was named the Philadelphia Female Athlete of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Philadelphia.  Olcese is also a three-time winner of the John B. Kelly Award given by Middle Atlantic AAU Swimming.

After retiring from national and international competition, Olcese turned to Penn to begin intercollegiate competition.  During her freshman year, she qualified for national competition, and she and teammate Marg Seluk were one of the first Penn women’s swimmers to score points on a national level.


Olcese represented Penn at the Women's Collegiate Swimming National Championships and the Eastern Women's Intercollegiate Swimming Championships, where she scored in the backstroke, butterfly, individual medley and relay events.

She was also a two-time team captain (1972, 1973) and a two-time recipient of the team's MVP award (1972, 1973).