Will Harvard win the Eastern League swimming title for the first time since 1962? Will the Crimson compile its first undefeated season in 11 years? Can head coach Don Gambril mold his team into an Eastern swimming power in just two years?
The answers are riding on the outcome of today's league championship showdown in Princeton, N.J. with the once-beaten, defending champion Tigers. A Harvard win would virtually assure Gambril of a share of the Eastern title at worst and a very good chance to finish the season unbeaten as the undisputed champion.
A Princeton win, however, would considerably dampen Harvard team morale, and most probably throw the Tigers, the Crimson, and Dartmouth into a three-way tie for the crown. But although Princeton has a number of intangible advantages, including the home pool and an incentive to retain at least a share of the crown, the meet is rated a virtual toss-up.
The contest is simultaneously a coach's pleasant dream and nightmare. The outcome may depend on coaching strategy, at which Gambril is a master, but it may also involve a great deal of luck, which being beyond anyone's control, gives coaches many a sleepless night.
Both teams are very evenly matched throughout their respective lineups. Each has excellent relays, as always an area of crucial importance in the tight meets, and top-notch individual performers. The Tigers are however, a much tougher team than the Dartmouth squad Harvard beat convincingly in early January. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Big Green beat Princeton in December in a contest which still ranks as an upset of incredible proportions.
"They have better first place strength (than Dartmouth) to rival ours." Gambril said Thursday," and better depth as well." The Tigers have, in Gambril's estimation, anywhere from four to six wins largely on the strength of their two stars, NCAA 200-yd. backstroke champion Charlie Camp-bell and distance freestyler Curt Haydon.
"We have to count on Campbell getting at least a first and a second and swimming a leg on a relay, and Haydon for two firsts," Gambril said, "so we'll just have to put up our strongest lineup, and try to out-guess them."
What makes Gambril's job more difficult is the versatility of Campbell, who besides being an excellent backstroker is first-rate in the individual medley and the 100-yd. and 200-yd. freestyles as well.
Harvard, on the other hand, has some superlative swimmers of its own to counter Princeton's Campbell and Haydon. Freshman Hess Yntema, almost as versatile a performer as Campbell, appears to be a sure bet in his specialty, the 200-yd. butterfly. And unless Campbell swims the IM, Yntema should win that race as well. Sophomore breastroker Dave Brumwell will have to equal his Dartmouth time of 2:14.6 in the 200-yd. breast, but he should win the event. Sprint freestyler Tim Neville is the favorite in the 50-yd. free as well.
This contest will probably boil down to crucial encounters in the 1000-yd. and 500-yd. free where Harvard's Rich Baughman will try to make a strong comeback from his recent illness to challenge Haydon, and the 100-yd. and 200-yd. free where Crimson captain Fred Mitchell will probably face Campbell.
Freshman diver Dave English may, in the final analysis, prove to be the most important member of the Harvard team. Each year Princeton parlayed a 16-2 sweep of the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions and firsts in both relays into a convincing win. This year, English appears to have a shot at splitting the two Tiger divers and thus averting another fatal 16-2 shellacking. His performances will be crucial to the team's chances of winning the meet on Princeton's territory.
Besides the battle in the dives and the freestyles, the fight for seconds and thirds will take on added significance. Gambril's team, while numbering at least one strong performer in every event, may not be quite as deep as Princeton. Some unexpected Harvard seconds or thirds could mean the difference between an undefeated season and plaudits for Gambril and a record marred by another loss to the Tigers.