Few first-year coaches are lucky enough to inherit a team capable of winning both league and Eastern crowns, setting new school records in every event, and going undefeated. But new Harvard swimming head coach Ray Essick is loath to make wild predictions, and despite a talented team that boasts 17 returning lettermen, five incoming high school All-Americans and two members of the Australian national team, he prefers to be "cautiously optimistic."
"We've obviously got great personnel," Essick said yesterday, "but we're also in a great league, and several of the teams are capable of beating anyone on a given day."
Regardless of Essick's wait-and-see attitude, this year's Crimson swimming team is already shaping up as the deepest and best balanced in Harvard history, at least on paper. In fact, the squad has no discernable weaknesses in any event, and last year's only problem--depth--will not be a significant factor this winter.
"We've got one of the biggest squads in Harvard history," Essick said yesterday, "but you have to give an awful lot of the credit to Don Gambril for building up the program."
Gambril resigned last spring to take over the head coaching duties at Alabama after taking Harvard from swimming mediocrity to a league championship and third place Eastern finish in just two years.
Gambril's work should pay huge dividends this winter. With everyone back from an 8-1 team that set Harvard records in 17 of 18 events, plus a third consecutive crop of outstanding freshmen, a clean sweep of those records is quite probable.
The team's trademark this winter could be versatility, as several Crimson swimmers are capable of winning a wide range of events.
Sophomore Hess Yntema, returning after an outstanding freshman year in which he was undefeated in the 200-yd. butterfly, can score in any freestyle event from the 200 to the 1000, and is an excellent individual medleyist as well.
Peter Tetlow, a member of the Australian national team that competed in the World Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia over the summer, may be as versatile as Yntema. A distance freestyle specialist, he can also swim the IM and the butterfly. Another freshman. Brent Haywood, a high school All-American in the 200-yd. breaststroke and 200-yd. IM, can swim distance freestyle as well.
With that kind of flexibility, Essick will be able to juggle his lineup for maximum points in every meet. But with the kind of depth Harvard will display this winter, it may not be important until the Easterns and the NCAA's.
Harvard appears strongest in the distance freestyles, IM and fly, but it should have little problem winning consistently in the breaststroke, backstroke and relays as well. Tetlow will give the Crimson the solid 1-2 punch it was looking for in the 1000-yd. and 500-yd. free, as he joins Rich Baughman, the record-holder in both events. Haywood and Yntema will provide added depth.
Any one of five swimmers could win consistently in the IM, but Yntema will probably concentrate on the fly and freestyles, leaving the event in the capable hands of Canadian Dave Brumwell, coming off a great summer which included a 12th in the 400 IM at the World Games, and Neil Martin, an Australian freshman who placed 9th in the same race at Belgrade. Tetlow and Haywood might also swim the IM.
Yntema is a definite threat for the NCAA 200-yd. butterfly crown this year after a third place finish behind Gary Hall last winter, and he should be unstoppable in dual meet competition.
Because of the team's added depth, he will also be able to swim the 100-yd. fly leg on the opening medley relay, strengthening that event considerably.
Yntema's competition in the fly will come from Tetlow, who gave him a good race in the intrasquad meet two weeks ago, and the two should be a potent 1-2 threat.
Brent Haywood joins co-captain Phil Jonckheer (the 100-yd. record holder) and Brumwell (the 200-yd. record holder) in the breaststroke, which should be another area of Crimson strength. Brumwell already showed mid-season form in the intrasquad meet, swimming a fine 2:14.
Sophomore Tom Wolfe returns in the 200-yd. back after a fine season, and Martin and another high school All-American, John Seelen, could improve the Crimson's backstroke strength considerably over last year.
Co-captain Fred Mitchell has had a fine pre-season and will again be the Crimson's leading all-purpose freestyler, but with the arrival of Tetlow he will probably concentrate more on the 200 and 100.
Mike Cook, coming off a triple gold medal performance at the Maccabiah Games, gives Harvard the continual threat of a sweep in both freestyle events, as will freshman Miles Standish.
Tim Neville returns after an undefeated season in the 50-yd. free. He will be joined by prep school All-American George Keim in the sprints.
The dives will be improved over last year as freshman Roger Johannigman, sophomore Dave English and senior John Zakotnik should provide the Crimson with more points, while the relays could be a Harvard strength all season.
If the team can get by Dartmouth Saturday at Hanover, only Princeton (which picked up several outstanding freshmen) and Yale have realistic shots at spoiling what could well be an undefeated season for Ray Essick in his rookie year at Harvard.