In the beginning, it was supposed to be nothing more than a warm-up meet, a chance to get the kings out after a three-week Christmas break, and an opportunity to catch some sun in the process.
But in the end, the Harvard swimming team's January 2 dual meet with Florida, the fifth-ranked team in the country, proved to be much, much more. In three of the best hours of swimming a Harvard team has ever put forward, the squad did the inconceivable, upsetting the Gators, 126-117, to capture one of the greatest moments in Harvard swimming history.
"It was incredibly exciting," senior distance man John Blaney said earlier in the year. "They were expecting to roll over us, but we put in the best day of swimming possible and we got the win. I think everyone will remember it for a long, long time."
"It was one of those experiences that you don't forget," senior Richard Ou said. "It was one of those moments when--Suddenly--everything you've done seems worthwhile."
That win, more than any of the team's other many accomplishments during the 1993-94 campaign, will be remembered most. For while some other accomplishments came at home critical points in the season--the team's Eastern championship, for example--the Florida win seriously altered the way the Crimson views itself as a program.
The team had fared well prior to the meet, beating Columbia, Army and Michigan State in dual action, and winning the Harvard Invitational, featuring Syracuse, Villanova, Yale and Penn State, convincingly, but it had never viewed itself as a national power, a view reinforced by a December 11 loss to Michigan.
The Florida meet, however, changed all that.
"We've won Easterns a couple of times, and those wins have been rewarding, but we had never really seen ourselves as a potential national power," Ou says. "With that win, though, our expectations for ourselves were raised considerably. We realized that we can do some great things."
Given that enlargened view of the team's capabilities, it is easy to see how some Crimson swimmers might have been disappointed with the end-of-the-season results. For while Harvard captured the Eastern Championship, beating league nemesis Princeton, it finished only 24th at the NCAA championships.
"Call us a little spoiled but we really were hoping to do better nationally," Ou says. "A win over the fifth-ranked team in the country will give you that goal, and we didn't quite achieve it. But still, we're very pleased with our season."
As well they should be.
After the Florida meet, the team was virtually flawless up through the Eastern Championships, beating Dartmouth, Brown, Navy, Yale, Cornell and Pennsylvania.
The one exception was a farcical 135.5-109.5 loss to Princeton. The loss was a farce in that the Tigers shaved for the meet and the Crimson didn't a sure-fire seconds-shaving tactic usually reserved for more important, end-of-the-season meets.
A shaved Harvard team avenged that loss in mechanical fashion by trouncing the Tigers at Easterns, held at Army on March 3. But while the revenge was nice, it was little consolation for the team's failure to capture what it really wanted--to have eight or ten swimmers quality for the NCAA Championships in Mineapolis, MN on March 26.
Instead, only two aquamen--juniors Jan Esway and Tim Carver--made the cut, accounting for the team's 42nd-place finish at the meet.
"We really would have liked to have gotten eight or ten guys qualified for the meet," Ou says. "There were a number of guys on the bubble, including myself. I think we could have done a lot better if we had gotten some more of them in there, we could have shown that the Florida meet wasn't farce."
Of course, while that very question--whether or not the Florida meet was a farce--will surely be in the minds of the departing seniors for a while, such thinking is largely academic.
For the simple fact is that the upset happened, and, because of it, Harvard's swimming program will never be quite the same.
"I'd like to think that we both preserved the excellent swimming tradition here, and we added to it," Ou says. "I'd like to think that we helped make Harvard's national program, and that we raised the schools standards a bit."
If the 1993-94 season could conceivably be see as disappointing, then such hopes are assured.
Ivy League: 6-1
Key Players: Tim McCarver, Jan Esway, Craig Narveston.
Seniors: Rich Beukema, John Blaney, Brent Lorenzon, Robert McDermott, Matt McKay, Craig Narveson, David Osterhus, Richard Ou