Rediscovering That Championship Feeling
The Harvard men's swimming team learned one thing from last year's second-place finish: winning is a lot more fun.
After capturing eight straight Eastern championships, a streak dating back to 1979, Coach Joe Bernal and his troops were beaten decisively by Princeton at last year's meet, dropping the Crimson into second place.
1986-'87 Overall: 9-2
1986-'87 EISL: 7-2 (second)
Captains: Bill Bard, Chris
Coupled with the fact that the Tigers have also captured all or part of the last four ECAC and Ivy League titles, Harvard will be starting its 1987-'88 season from an unfamiliar position: that of an underdog.
The Crimson is far from being a weak team, having finished no worse than third in the ECAC or second in the Easterns this decade. But to a team used to great success, last year was a great disappointment.
Following a good recruiting year, though, Harvard sees itself inching back into a position to reclaim its lost throne. With the Crimson and the Tigers both losing key swimmers to graduation and Olympic training, it may be the younger swimmers who will make the difference in this season's big meets.
Harvard's most notable loss was senior David Berkoff, last year's NCAA champion in the 100-yd. backstroke. Berkoff is attending school this semester, but will take a year off to intensify training in his quest to qualify for next summer's Seoul games.
Except for Berkoff and three graduated members, the Crimson will return every swimmer from last year's Eastern squad, hopeful that the extra year of experience will pay off. The squad is captained by seniors Bill Bird and Chris Smith, and led by a solid group of five seniors.
But the Crimson is still a young team, one that needs to prove itself. Of the squad's 31 members, only six have had more than one year of college swimming experience. Only those six remember Harvard's last Eastern championship, although it was only 19 months ago.
Of the returning swimmers, the squad's strength should be in the sprint freestyle races. Junior Keith Kaplan is coming of an excellent season in which he broke two school records and assisted on another. Kaplan should be aided by Smith, as well as sophomores Mark Shagena, Jay Fisher and David Lee.
Senior Jeff Peltier is the top backstroker returning for Harvard, and appears ready to make great strides. Bird and sophomore George Imready return as the core butterfliers, while Michael Lin should be strong in the individual medley.
Senior John Pearson and sophomore Ken Johnson will once again be the primary distance freestyle men for the Crimson. Sophomore Jim Lutz was Harvard's top breaststroker last year, and he should be helped by a large group of freshmen.
Eleven members of the freshmen class have made their way onto the squad and most should be able to contribute immediately. Leading the Class of '91 is Scott Jaffe, a nationally-ranked breaststroker who can be successful at most anything. Jaffe may be asked to swim many events this year to give the Crimson additional depth.
The breststroker is the prefered race of many freshmen, as Jonathan Manson, Albert Wolf and Joey Zumpano are all specialists in those events. Their proficiency in the breaststroke has already been helpful to Harvard, as the squad has taken the top four places in the breaststroke race in a pair of meets last week.
Also starting their swimming careers at Harvard are Greg Tull, Paul Watson and Dan Hume. Tull is a sprinter who could challenge Kaplan's dominace, while Watson could emerge as the team's best backstroker. Hume gives the team greater depth in the butterfly events.
Diving continues to be a sore spot for Harvard. Junior Patrick Healy returns for his third year and should be improved. But the resignation of Diving Coach John Walker and the absence of any other divers spells trouble. With the changes in scoring, giving points to the first five finishers in all events, Harvard swimmers will be forced to make up for points lost in the diving competitions.
Harvard's first big test comes this weekend when the team travels to the University of Alabama for a dual-meet tournament. Eight teams from across the nation will compete in the tourney, giving the Crimson a way to compare its strengths with other top teams. Harvard swims against the University of Iowa in the first round.
Following a Winter Break training trip, Harvard resumes its Ivy League competition, culminating in a dual-meet showdown with Princeton at Blodgett Pool February 6. The Crimson will then gear up for the Eastern Championships, held March 4-6 at Smith Swimming Center in Providence, R.I.
It is there that Harvard will try to redicover that championship feeling.