W. Swimming Opens With Routs of Dartmouth, Cornell
It's been said many times and many ways after a successful season opener, but it has to be said again after a stunning performance by the women's swimming and diving team on Saturday: Maybe this is the year that Harvard can take it all.
With a big crowd on hand at Blodgett Pool and high energy in the air, the Crimson left little doubt that it will be an Ivy contender this year, trampling conference foes Cornell and Dartmouth, 210-89 and 228-71, respectively.
Harvard swam the best it has in recent years, finishing first in every event except the last relay, in which it was disqualified. Depth was an important factor, as usual, but it was exceptional individual performances that marked this meet as a watershed competition for the Crimson.
Veterans, like senior Alexis Todor and junior Angie Peluse, who each posted wins with near-personal best times, proved the improvements made this year to the returners. In fact, Todor's 100-breaststroke time of 1:05.93 was only .3 seconds slower than her shaved-and-tapered time at last year's Ivy Championships.
"We've been racing in workout since the beginning of the season," Todor said. "That's a change in the way we've trained in the past. The team has gotten so used to racing several times each practice that one race alone is not intimidating and doesn't fatigue us as it may have in years past."
Apparently the new training style of Harvard Coach Steph Wriede, who is in her third year at the helm, is working like a charm.
The Crimson had four double event winners, and most swimmers could not hide their smiles after each race.
Peluse was an example of the team's excellent conditioning, winning both the 100-butterfly and the 100-backstroke. En route to her victories, Peluse powered past her opponents in the final 50 yards to finish both in sub-minute times.
"The team is in great shape," senior Nancy Jo said. "We are swimming better than we ever have at this point in the season."
Sophomore Janna McDougall was not to be left out of the mix, triumphing in both the 50-freestyle and the 200-backstroke, as well as taking part in the winning 200-medley relay. In the 200-backstroke, only two events after she already motored her way to a 24.44 win in the 50-freestyle, McDougall's smooth strokes looked effortless as she smoked the competition to finish at 2:07.18.
"The team was extremely excited to start the season in an Ivy meet at home," McDougall said. "Before every event there is always a lot of cheering from the sides and behind the blocks to get us going. Knowing that we have that much team support pushes us individually during the races."
Team support and the excitement McDougall herself created may very well have helped junior Ali Shipley as well. With two diving wins of her own, Shipley's performances evidenced the strength of the diving corps. Her aerial magic and clean entries gave her decisive victories on both the one-meter and three-meter events, winning by eight points and 28 points, respectively.
The addition of a talented pool of over a dozen freshmen brought the meet to a climax, as each got out her jitters to register a blazing time.
Distance ace Lovisa Gustafsson used her lightning-quick stroke tempo to jet to victories in the 1,000 and 500-freestyles.
Finishing the 1,000 with a time of 10:14.70, a happy Gustafsson established her presence on the team and in the Ivy League conference.
"The freshmen were amazed at how well we came together," Gustafsson said. "That helped everyone swim perform at their best individually."
Other freshmen standouts from Saturday include individual event winners Christin McConnell, who won the 200-freestyle in 1:54.88, Victoria Chang, who out-paced the competition in the 100 freestyle with a 53.44, and Rachel O'Beirne--who sneaked by Jo to win the 200 individual medley in a time of 2:11.16.
Surely the freshman class will play a vital role as the season gets underway.
"The freshmen were all looking for a good first look at Ivy competition," said Gustafsson. "Going into meets like Brown [which is next weekend] we wanted to have a feel for the atmosphere and meet formats, since they are so different high school."
The pure depth of the team, augmented by the freshmen, also highlights the team's early cohesion. Not did Harvard win 15 of 16 events, but it finished one-two in seven of them, one-two-three in five of them, and even swept the 200-individual medley completely with an unheard-of one-through-four finish.
Now the Crimson is hoping to build on this weekend's breakthrough racing with a win over defending Ivy champion Brown. Although the Bears have claimed the last three dual-meet decisions, the Crimson's newly established confidence could bring that streak tumbling down.
"We are more excited for Brown than ever before," said Todor. "This weekend we got the jitters out and pulled together as a team despite our big numbers. We are ready!"
While the upcoming dual meet marks Todor and her senior classmates' final chance to beat Brown, the newly arrived freshmen are just as excited.
"After seeing everyone swim this weekend, we feel a lot more confident that we can take Brown down," Gustafsson said. "There is no doubt in our minds that we can win next weekend too."
Harvard faces its first major test of the season when it hosts Brown on Friday. That dual meet will not determine the Ivy title, but it will inevitably affect the team's momentum and outlook on the elusive championship.