What Harvard sports team--except maybe the squash squads--wouldn't have given everything to have been as successful as the women's swimming team this season?
The women tankers garnered a 6-1 overall record, a 6-1 Ivy League record, and a second-place finish in the Eastern Championships, the sort of the season that would have gone down as the "best-ever" campaign for most Harvard sports programs.
But not the women tankers.
After two-straight Eastern championships the two years before last and a runner-up finish last season, this year seemed, well--at the risk of sounding too greedy, a little bit blah.
"It sounds bad because we did accomplish a lot, but this year wasn't really that special in terms of how we did," senior diver Marcia Vital says. "I think that each year you set out hoping to do better then you did the year before, and that can be hard when you are used to doing so well."
Coming into this season, the Crimson's expressed goal was so clear that, if it had been the late-1980s, it might shaved onto the side of every sprinter's head: to win the regular season league championship and then to take Easterns.
Harvard would have attained that goal if not for the exploits of one small school pitted in America's deep south, with ugly school colors and a hackneyed mascot: Princeton, the defending league and Easterm champion.
"Princeton has been the difference between two years ago and now," Vital says. "They have pumped a lot of money into their program the last few years--sort of the state school mentality, I guess--and they've surpassed us. They are really good."
"Princeton has been getting a lot better each year," senior sprinter Jen Chertow says. "It's almost like they've come out of nowhere to beat us. Now they are team to beat."
The Crimson faced the Tigers twice this season.
Harvard came into the first contest, a dual at Blodgett Pool on February 5, with confidence. The team had amassed a 4-0 record in dual competitions and a first-place finish at the Harvard invitational against such powers as Syracuse, Villanova, Yale and Indiana.
But Princeton was undefeated, too, and in the Battle of Unbeatens, the Tigers came out on top, 157-143.
"After that, we were determined to beat them," junior Deb Kory said earlier in the season. "For the rest of the regular season we were just sort of waiting for Eastern when we would play them again. That was going to be the showdown."
Harvard might have figured that Easterns was destined to go the way of the Tigers when the site of the showdown was changed from Ithaca, N.Y. to Princeton's own backyard only weeks before the October 24-26 meet. But, whether believing in the dictates of fate or not, they could have done very little to stop the Princeton machine; the Tigers put in a great team performance to repeat as Eastern champions.
The Crimson finished second, again.
"They're a great team and they showed it," Kory said after the race. "They dominated."
Despite the tough losses to Princeton, though, the 1993-94 season can hardly be summed up with a focus on Harvard's estranged relationship with the Tigers the past two years.
After all, the Crimson did win every other meet of the year. And, perhaps even more important, the team members are not necessarily obsessed with the undefeated ideal.
"I was talking to some teammates and we pretty much agreed that while winning is important, our victories had nothing to do with the real lessons we learned--the importance of friends, and the importance of doing you're best," Chertow says.
Wishful thinking? A sappy attempt to compensate for emotional heartache following the Princeton losses?
Certainly not. After all, more than high expectations can come from a winning tradition.
As Chertwo says: One thing I've learned through my years here form all the success we've had is that while winning is important, it's not the most important thing. It's not even a close second."
Ivy League: 6-1
Key Players: Deborah Kory, Greta Steffenson, Valerie Gilson
Seniors: Jen Chertow, Marcia Vital