What a relief it is.
Junior Stephanie Wriede qualified for NCAA's in the 200-meter breastroke to highlight the Harvard women's swimming team's first-place finish at the Pitt Invitational this weekend in Pittsburgh.
Wriede bested the NCAA qualifying time of 2:18.36 in her Saturday morning preliminary race before leading coast-to-coast in the afternoon final to capture the event with a meet-record and Harvard-record time of 2:18.12, just 0.37 seconds ahead of second-place Dori Miller of the University of Maryland.
"I was ahead the whole way," Wriede said. "It's a relief to make the NCAA cut early in the year. Now, I can focus on training for the league and Easterns. But I really feel sorry for [Miller], who just missed the cut herself."
"Steph's swim was really great," Harvard Coach Maura Costin Scalise said. "Other coaches kept on coming up to me and commenting about it. It should be enough to score points at NCAA."
But not lost in the glitter of Wriede's performance was Harvard's 911 points, which far outdistanced second-place North Carolina State (669) and third-place Pittsburgh (547). Pitt placed third behind Princeton and the Crimson at last year's Easterns championships.
Co-Captain Jill Hutchinson and junior standout Stacie Duncan topped the leader board with three first-place finishes each. Hutchinson swept the freestyle events, capturing the 50-meter race in a meet-record time of 23.59 and also claiming the 100 and 200 freestyle. Hutchinson participated on the first-place 800 freestyle medley team and the second-place 200 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams.
"Jill Hutchinson was really impressive," Wriede said. "It's just so nice to see someone who's worked so hard and trained so hard in the summer to be swimming so fast."
Duncan swept the distance freestyles, claiming the 500 and 1650 by comfortable margins, while outdistancing Harvard Co-Captain Nicole Engh in the 400 individual medley by four seconds.
"Compared to last year in December, I swam much faster," Duncan said. "It makes me feel confident in my training so far."
The Crimson claimed four meet records by Wriede, Hutchinson, Lynn Kelly (100 butterfly) and Deidre Ryan (200 backstroke) on its way to 10 first-place finishes. As well, Kelly's time of 56.20 and Wriede's NCAA qualifying time were new Harvard standards.
"I was pleased with the team's overall performance," Costin Scalise said. "At each session, we got faster. It's funny, but in swimming, winning can be catchy. One person does well, and the rest of the team picks up. Deidre Ryan's win in the 200 backstroke picked us up on Saturday night."
Ryan's meet-record swim started an incredible string of five consecutive first-place swims which included the four meet records and clinched the invitational for the Crimson. Duncan followed with her win in the 500 freestyle, and Kelly claimed the meet record in the 100 butterfly. Wriede followed up with her brilliant swim in the 200 breastroke, and Hutchinson claimed the meet record in the 50 freestyle.
The meet was the first successful step on the Crimson's road to reclaim its Ivy League and Easterns championships from Princeton, which upset Harvard last year. And the victory put aside some questions about the team's place in the East.
"We graduated depth and stars," Costin Scalise said, "but what happens is that the people behind the stars rise to the occasion when they get the opportunity. That usually happens every year, and that's what happened. But we have to rely on freshman for depth, which makes me wary."
"After last year, people were wondering if we were going to be able to swim fast this year," Duncan said. "Now we know that there are people that can swim fast. And the Ivy title and Easterns are definitely obtainable."
Most surprising for the Crimson was the success of the relay teams, which are all new because of graduated stars such as Sheila Findley and Mia Costello. But Hutchinson, Wriede, Kelly and Eva Romas claimed first in the 800 freestyle, and Estes replaced Romas in the same lineup to capture second in the 200 medley relay. Hutchinson, sophomore Laura Alonso and freshmen Cristina Cregan and Jennifer Chertow anchored the Crimson's second-place finish in the 200 freestyle.
"We have very competitive relays this year," Costin Scalise said. "People want to swim because of hopes for qualifying for nationals, so that makes everyone swim faster."
"The hardest part with new lineups on the relays are the starts and finishes," Duncan said. "After swimming the relays this weekend, people were laughing because the starts and finishes were interesting."
NOTEBOOK: Harvard will attempt to claim its second-straight Ivy League match with a 7 p.m. showdown with Brown in Providence tonight.