If the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team is going to leapfrog traditional Ivy powers Princeton and Brown, the record-setting performances turned in during last year’s Ivy Championships will need to be replicated on a larger scale.
With this year’s returning cast, that outcome may not be entirely out of the question.
The Ivy Championships marked the highlight of the Crimson’s season last year, with six school records—four individual and two relay—falling during the competition.
Of those, three individual record holders—senior Anna Fraser and sophomores Molly Ward and Molly Brethauer—will return this season. Each of the relay teams lost one member but remain otherwise intact.
Unfortunately for last year’s squad, even those personal bests were only good enough for third in the Ivy League—a position held by the Crimson at the end of the season three of the past four years.
“We knew last year that everyone would have had to swim beyond their best to win,” Brethauer said.
Harvard expects production from all of its classes this time out, including the freshmen.
“No one is going to shoulder the team,” co-captain Jane Humphries said. “There are two or three swimmers in each year we can always count on.”
Beyond the talent of the swimmers, the level of conditioning for this year surpasses that of years past. Working with a new weights coach, the team is in far better shape than at this point last year,” Humphries said.
The camaraderie and positive attitude have elevated has the performance of Harvard’s swimmers in the past.
“I think it helps especially in terms of being excited to be going to practice,” Humphries said of the team’s traditional tightness. “We all have confidence in each other and can trust each other.”
Ward, coming off her record-setting 51.11-second performance last year in the 100, will lead the freestyle swimmers.
This year, she is likely to swim in both the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events as well as each of the relays.
In longer distance competition, tested veteran senior Vicki Chang figures to compete for an Ivy title in the 1000-yard freestyle.
Co-captain Rachael O’Beirne—previously an Ivy breaststroke finalist— and junior Erica DeBenedetto, who swam breaststroke for the record-breaking 400-yard medley relay team, will attempt to build on last year’s success.
Lessening the pressure on the pair is freshman Jane Evans, who has already made her mark in this young season.
Victorious in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events in the Cornell-Dartmouth tri-meet, Evans has shown that she is capable of making an impact from the onset.
“She doesn’t let anything bother her, and she just races,” Brethauer said. “You always know she’s going to have a real strong performance.”
Fraser will lead the Crimson butterfly effort after raising the bar in last year’s Ivies. In addition to her new records in the 200-yard free relay and the 400-yard medley relay—in which she swam the butterfly leg—Fraser also set the 100-yard fly Harvard record en route to the title.
Now completely healthy after a year initially dampened by injury, she will be a force to be reckoned with.
Like Fraser, Brethauer returns to the water this season after a record-setting 2002 campaign. She became the new record holder in the 200-yard backstroke en route to the Ivy title.
This year, she has picked up right where she left off, winning the 100-yard backstroke last weekend.
On the boards and platforms, the trio of junior Renee Paradise and sophomores Anne Osmun and Coral Day-Davis have excelled despite their youth.
Though the Crimson has already begun the year in fine fashion with its typical rout of traditional Ivy bottom-dwellers Cornell and Dartmouth, the season begins in earnest on Friday as Harvard travels to Brown. The Bears, who topped the Crimson in dual meets and the Ivies, will be the first real test of the season.
“We definitely have a real shot [at displacing either Princeton or Brown] this year,” Brethauer said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we have a shot.”