It was a meet that was dependent on second- and third-place points to determine a champion, but the Harvard women’s swimming team still reigned supreme. The meet was hotly contested, with Harvard taking nine events, Kansas eight and Houston two. So the meet was really won by those swimmers who brought in lower finishing points.
In the end, Harvard’s depth proved enough, as the Crimson (6-0) extended its season-opening winning streak to six, beating the Jayhawks 194.5-157.5 and destroying the Cougars, 287-63.
The win over Kansas came as something of a shock to the Harvard swimmers, who viewed the Jayhawks as the stronger team on paper. They had been posting faster scores than for most of the season. Even Harvard coach Stephanie Wriede-Morawski had her doubts about the Crimson’s chances, and so Harvard went into this meet determined to swim its best but not expecting a team win.
“We didn’t even know we were ahead after the first day until we heard the score,” freshman Jackie Pangilinan said. “We were ahead by seven points, and we just went nuts.”
After Kansas started the meet by winning the 200-yard medley relay—a race that the Crimson had been undefeated in on the season—followed by two more wins in both the 400-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay, Harvard was a little worried. But the Crimson did what it had to and came back stronger than anyone imagined.
“We had to want it,” Pangilinan said
The leader of the comeback was junior transfer Noelle Bassi, who has been swimming phenomenally ever since she got in the water in this, her first season with Harvard. Bassi picked up first-place points in all four events she competed in: the 200-yard butterfly, 200-yard individual medley (IM), 400-yard IM and 500-yard freestyle.
Bassi led a one-two finish in the 200-yard butterfly followed by senior Molly Brethauer, becoming the first Crimson woman to break two minutes in the event with a time of 1:59.79 in the process.
“[The record] feels good,” Bassi said. “It’s not my best time but at this point in the season it’s really exciting.”
Bassi also led a one-two finish in the 400-yard IM followed by sophomore Stacy Blondin while setting a new pool record in the event. She followed that second record-setting performance by spearheading a one-two-three finish in the 200-yard IM with sophomore LeeAnn Chang taking second and junior Jane Evans getting third.
Bassi wasn’t the only Harvard swimmer to set a record in this meet though. Freshman Lindsay Hart also went on to set a new pool record in the 200-yard backstroke, earning her first-place points.
Pangilinan almost broke another record for the Crimson in her 100-yard breaststroke swim and took home the win, then anchored a one-two finish in the 200-yard breaststroke, besting Chang, who finished second.
The last individual win was brought home by Stacy Blondin at the beginning of the meet when she won the 1,650-yard freestyle, followed by her sister, fellow sophomore Kelly Blondin.
“We are all coming together [as a team] really well,” Bassi said.
The Jayhawks took home the first-place points in the 200-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle and 50-yard freestyle, but Harvard didn’t give too much away as senior Molly Ward finished second in all three freestyle events. Kansas also got the first-place points in the 100-yard backstroke, with Hart taking third place, and the 100-yard Butterfly with freshman Bridget O’Connor grabbing the second-place spot for the Crimson.
The true moment of glory for the Crimson came in the last race of the meet in the 200-yard freestyle relay, though. Harvard had lost all evening to the Jayhawks’ relays, but all the Crimson had to do was not be disqualified in order to clinch the win. But after being beaten three times already, Harvard wanted some payback and came back to win the relay over the Kansas team.
“At the end winning that last relay was amazing,” Pangilinan said. “It was a slap in [the Jayhawk’s] face.”
Houston was never really a major force in the meet from the start though, only placing in the top three in one swimming event. The Cougars took the third-place spot in the 400-yard IM. So the swimming portion of the meet turned into a head-to-head battle between Kansas and the Crimson.
“The Houston girls didn’t have very many people,” Bassi said. “They have some good swimmers, but their strength is really diving.”
Houston did have its time to shine though and that time came during the diving events. The Cougars boast two world-class divers, Azul Almazan and Anna Kleis, who have both brought home numerous awards and honors for the Houston team. Both divers have qualified and competed in NCAA Championships. Almazan even competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney for her home country of Mexico and placed 13th in the three-meter dive event.
Almazan took home a first-place finish in the three-meter dive as well as a third-place finish in the one-meter dive. Teammate Kleis did even better with a first place in the one-meter dive and a second-place finish in the three-meter.
But Harvard freshman diver Samantha Papadakis wasn’t fazed by her prestigious competitors. She stepped up to the challenge and finished second in the one-meter dive and third in the three-meter.
“Our divers really stepped up and weren’t intimidated,” Pangilinan said.