Final Race Victory Secures Upset

SIROKY-DOKEY
Crimson FILE Photo

With finals looming, the Harvard men’s swimming and diving team passed its toughest non-conference exam of the season last Saturday, upsetting No. 21 North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill 157-143.

The Crimson (4-0, 3-0 EISL) staked itself to its largest lead of the meet with just five events remaining, but the Tar Heels (4-3, 1-0 ACC) stormed back, capturing first place in three straight non-diving events. Harvard's lead had been slashed to just five with only the 400-yard freestyle relay remaining and enough points up for grabs to hand either team the overall victory.

But that was as close as the Tar Heels would come to reclaiming the lead lost seven events into the meet.

“Historically our 400 free relay hasn’t been strong,” senior Rassan Grant said. “But this year it’s great. The guys fed off the energy in the arena.”

Sophomore David Cromwell, swimming the first leg for Harvard, fell behind early and trailed by 0.39 seconds heading into his last 50 yards. But Cromwell erased that deficit on the home stretch, seizing a 0.98 second lead by the time he touched the pad.

Co-captain Kemi George, second on the relay team, extended the lead by 0.73 seconds before junior Andrew Krna and sophomore Mark Knepley secured the win with times of 45.77 and 45.03 seconds, respectively, giving the team an overall finish of 3:02.26—2.38 seconds faster than UNC’s ‘A’ relay.

“The four of us were talking beforehand and we knew that it was coming down to this relay,” George said. “As exciting and nerve-racking as that might be, it’s likely that our big meets this season—H-Y-P, Easterns—will come down to races like this...Our mentality was that this was just a rehearsal for the rest of the season.”

Against Navy one week ago, the Crimson shuffled its lineup to give swimmers the opportunity to compete outside their top events. But at UNC, Harvard called upon its top performers to turn in their strongest strokes.

Cromwell, George, Krna, Knepley and Grant each answered with multi-win performances.

“On paper, one can argue that the dynamic of the team has changed somewhat,” George said. “Now, this year, we think we’re fortunate in that we have—not only in the sprint freestyle group—a number of swimmers who have been able to step up and shoulder the load themselves...We also have a lot of assets that we will be depending on.”

Three of the four—Cromwell, George and Grant—teamed with junior Ryan Smith to start the meet off on the right foot with a 0.63-second victory in the 200-yard medley relay.

Swimming the backstroke, Cromwell established a 1.07-second lead over the first 50 yards, which Grant further extended by 0.63 seconds.

The additional cushion proved the difference, as the Tar Heels erased Cromwell’s initial lead over the final two legs.

The strong lead performance by Cromwell was only his first of three in the backstroke on the afternoon.

In the 100-yard event, he easily separated himself from the competition over the first 50 yards before kicking his stroke into a second gear, besting the next-fastest swimmer over the same stretch by 0.91 seconds. The 200-yard was little different.

More than eight-tenths of a second out in front after the first quarter of the race, Cromwell narrowly increased his lead before the halfway point before placing his endurance on display in the final 100 yards, adding 1.89 seconds to his lead over UNC's Reid Owen for a 2.88-second victory.

Complementing Cromwell’s backstroke dominance was the tandem of Krna, Knepley and George, who combined to dominate the freestyle events for the Crimson.

Krna placed first in the 50-yard freestyle, while Knepley captured top honors in the 100 with George taking second in the former and third in the latter.

But it was Grant who served as a one-man wrecking crew in the breaststroke.

He and senior Jonathan Lin blazed to identical times over the first half of the 100-yard event, but Grant left his classmate in his wake over the final fifty, pulling away for a 1.21-second victory, with Lin taking second and freshman Joc Christiana third.

“I kinda tried a different strategy,” Grant said. “I tend to start out a little slower, come back strong. I decided to start strong in the back of my mind.”

He did not take that message to heart in the 200, however.

Starting off with the third-slowest time over the first quarter of the race, Grant posted the fastest split-time over the final three fifty-yard segments for a 2.88-second victory.

Grant also took second in the 200-yard individual medley.

The Crimson towels off for exams, but returns to the water January 30 for H-Y-Ps against both Yale and Princeton in New Jersey.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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