Faced with such competition as top-ranked Texas, No. 5 Arizona, No. 7 California, No. 9 Michigan, and No. 12 Arizona State, you would think that the Harvard men's swimming and diving team, ranked No. 22 in NCAA polls, wouldn't stand a chance.
You would have thought wrong.
Harvard did more than just participate at one of the fastest meets in the country this past weekend at the University of Texas--it gave the other teams a run for their money.
"It was a good meet for us to be at," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "Some of the top teams in the country were there, and it was a very fast meet."
Standout swimmers for the weekend included seniors Michael Im and Will Oren, junior Kyle Egan and freshman John Cole, all of whom turned in lifetime-best performances, broke school records, or qualified for the NCAA Championships in the process. Overall, the five-time defending Eastern champions finished fifth out of twelve teams, scoring a total of 398 points.
"We had an amazing meet," freshman Rassan Grant said. "We really excelled across the board. Everyone was swimming well."
Harvard beat out such highly-ranked teams as No. 9 Michigan and No. 19 SMU. No. 1 Texas placed first, as expected.
The Crimson began the three-day meet with a sixth-place finish as seniors Matt Fritsch and Jamey Waters, junior Leif Drake and freshman Brad Burns clocked 1:21.51 in the 200-yard freestyle relay. The team lost no momentum as Kyle Egan won the consolation heat of the next event, the 100 butterfly, with a time of 48.71.
Egan's time broke the school record set by Peter Egan [no relation] in 1986. Teammates Drake and senior Adam Shaw also placed in the consolation heat of the event, going 50.09 and 50.16, respectively.
Cole then took fourth in the 500-yard free, going a best time of 4:25.36 while Oren won the consolation heat of the event with a time of 4:26.78, a five-second drop from his swim in preliminaries that morning.
"It probably took us a day to get adjusted to the environment after a long day of travel on Thursday," Murphy said.
Saturday proved even better for the Crimson as the men kicked off the evening by placing four divers in the top sixteen on the one-meter board. Of those, freshman Ricky Roy scored highest, securing sixth with 235.80 points.
Swimming-wise, three was the magic number for the Crimson on Saturday. The 200 medley relay of Im, Grant, Kyle Egan and Waters tied with Wisconsin for third with a time of 1:29.42. Oren took third in the 400 individual medley in 3:53.35 and Im placed third in the 100 backstroke, finishing in 48.64.
"A lot of what showed up [this weekend] is the work that we've been doing with Mike and with Will in practice," Murphy said. "The work that they did last spring and summer really rolled over into the fall."
Grant also swam well, turning in a fifth-place finish of 55.95 in the 100 breaststroke.
"Those were my best times unshaved," said Grant, whose goal time going into the meet had been 56.8. "I wasn't really going for the school record [55.87, set by Dave Schwartz in 1998] but it turns out I just missed it."
The team's performance peaked Sunday, however, as Im earned the Crimson's only win of the meet, clocking 1:44.43 in the 200 back. The time was just five-hundredths of a second short of an NCAA "A" qualifying time.
"Before NCAA's maybe six or seven people will make that [standard]," Grant explained.
Cole took second in the 1650 free with a time of 15:02, beating out Sydney bronze medallist Chris Thompson, who clocked in at 15:21, and just missing Tyler Painter of Arizona, who won the event in 14:52. Cole's time was an NCAA "A" standard, automatically qualifying him for the meet to be held in Indianapolis in March. His performance was also just four seconds shy of replacing the school record set last year by Tim Martin '00, a former Crimson editor.
The men continued to dominate as Oren placed third again, this time in the 200-yard butterfly touching at 1:46.58.
Harvard's depth in the event was apparent as Kyle Egan placed ninth, finishing 1:48.19, and co-captain Mike Groves took 15th, touching at 1:51.58. Senior Greg Walker then placed second in the men's platform diving with a final score of 402.70 points.
Unfortunately, Harvard's flight schedule made it impossible for the team to stay for the finals of the 400 free relay Sunday night, sealing the Crimson's fifth-place finish. Despite that fact, the team's attitude toward the meet's outcome remains enthusiastic.
"I think that [our performance] says a lot," Grant said of the meet. "We had a lot of coaches coming up to us afterward, saying 'good job' and congratulating us."
"It felt good to be able to go best times and represent for Harvard swimming at a national-level meet," Im wrote in an e-mail message. "The whole team swam awesome and we're looking forward to blowing up in 2001 and showing the rest of the nation that Harvard swimming is not be trifled with."
The men's first chance to prove that fact will be their next meet--the Crimson face Navy at home January 6.