The Crimson, defending Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League (EISL) champions, placed first in nine races—one more than in 2003—while its archrival Princeton won six times, less than half its 13 event wins a year ago. But despite the prima facie edge for Harvard, the Tigers came out on top this time around, edging the Crimson 1423-1338.50 to secure their second title in three seasons at DeNunzio Pool on Saturday.
Though Harvard earned several more event wins, both the Crimson and Princeton tallied 33 top-eight finishes, leaving the two in an apparent dead heat. But the EISL Championship, unlike the dual events contested during the season, rewards overall team depth, with points given for top-24 finishes, not just those in the fastest heat.
Already slightly ahead thanks to slightly stronger average finishes within the top eight, the Tigers’ narrow edge in the bottom two-thirds of the point-scoring places provided just enough of a lift to leave the Crimson behind in second.
“In an event like the 400 IM, in which I placed third, they had four guys in the top eight final, and when you go into finals with it looking like that, it makes a big difference for someone to get third rather than seventh or eighth,” junior Cameron Moccari said. “Any chance you have to win points, you want to make the most of it.”
Princeton entered the third and final day of competition with a sizeable 79-point lead, but Harvard wasted little time shaving the deficit down to a manageable sum behind two of its three individual award winners, sophomore David Cromwell and senior Rassan Grant, who shared the Phil Moriarty Award as the meet’s high scorers.
“We knew that they had a lot of depth,” Moccari said. “We had a couple of guys that performed incredibly well in Rassan and Cromwell winning three individual events. But beyond that we struggled...In terms of individual events it’s going to take a lot more than just two guys.”
Cromwell, with the 100-yard backstroke and butterfly events already in hand, dominated the field in the 200-yard backstroke, besting Tigers senior Stephen Fleming by 2.5 seconds for his third individual victory, and fifth overall, of the meet.
Cromwell’s time of 1:44.2 supplanted the previous meet record, 1:44.48, set by former captain Dan Shevchik ’03 in 2001 and sealed Cromwell’s undefeated season in backstroke events.
Two events later, Grant—who was also tabbed as recipient of the Ulen Award as the EISL’s top scorer during his four championship meets—equaled Cromwell’s output, adding the 200-yard breaststroke to the his first-place finishes in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard individual medley.
Grant established himself as the man to beat over the first 50 yards with a split time 0.45 seconds faster than the field and never looked back, touching the pad 1.23 seconds before Princeton’s Evan Delaney.
During the four-race stretch, Harvard erased 45.5 points from the Tigers lead, leaving just 33.5 points between the Crimson and first place.
The glimmer of hope wasn’t meant to last.
Led by Meir Hasbani, Princeton crushed any chance of a Harvard comeback with a devastating point grab in the 200-yard butterfly.
Hasbani and teammate Juan Valdivieso finished first and third, respectively, but timed in less than 0.6 seconds ahead of Moccari, who placed fourth.
The change in the margin on the leaderboard, however, was much larger.
“We knew that they were stronger in certain events coming into the meet,” Moccari said. “We knew there were going to be events that we were going to score a lot more points than them and there were going to be events where they were going to score a lot more points than us...They had the top two seeds in the event coming and we knew it would be tough.”
With the Crimson placing just two swimmers in the top 24, compared to the Tigers’ six, Princeton added 63 points to its lead, negating Harvard’s comeback strides over the previous four races and leaving too little time for the Crimson to rally for another charge.
Sophomore Danil Rybalko and senior Ricky Roy, winner of the Michael Award as the meet’s top diver, placed second and third, respectively, in the three-meter diving finals, closing the margin.
“At that point, we didn’t really look at the scoreboard that much, we just concentrated on having the best meet we could possibly have,” Rybalko said. “The past couple of years diving has been a big part of the swimming and the swimmers definitely counted on us to provide as many points as we could.”
But the effort, no matter how good, wasn’t enough as the Tigers placed second and Harvard third in the 400-yard freestyle relay to close the meet.
One year removed from second-place finishes in each of the five relays held, each time behind Princeton, the Crimson continued to struggle to make a dent in the freestyle team races, twice placing third.
But co-captain Kemi George, junior Ryan Smith, Cromwell and Grant broke the Tigers’ monopoly atop the medley relays, besting Princeton in both the 200-yard and 400-yard.
In the latter, Harvard led from the first stroke, sustaining Cromwell’s blistering initial pace in the backstroke for a 4.34-second victory.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.