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.