M. Swimming, Red-Hot Cole Take EISL Title

Paul M. Soper

There’s nothing like a little home-pool advantage in the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming League Championships. And there’s nothing like sweeping the relays, having Harvard co-captain John Cole named the meet’s outstanding swimmer, or finishing off the team’s first undefeated campaign since 1998-99.

Most importantly, however, there’s nothing like returning the EISL title to Blodgett Pool, the very place in which the Harvard men’s swimming team won it on Saturday night.

“Last time Easterns were here [in 2002], we lost,” Cole said. “Last time HYP was in our pool [in 2003], we lost. That left a bitter taste in our mouths.”

After surrendering the EISL crown to perennial rival Princeton in 2004, the Crimson showed the capacity crowd just why it had buried the Tigers and all other Ivy League competition all year long.

“Our goal from the beginning was to have this perfect season,” co-captain Andy Krna said. “It’s something that none of the seniors have had. We’ve either won HYP and lost Easterns or the other way around. Last year we lost in both, and we made it a team goal this year to come in and win every meet.”

A stellar all-around performance in sprint and distance relays, as well as individual events, gave Harvard its eighth EISL crown in a decade, a solid 1460.0-1363.5 victory over second-place Princeton. Columbia rounded out the top three with 1,040.5 points, but the weekend belonged to the longstanding and fierce Crimson-Tigers rivalry.

“We came into this meet wanting to beat Princeton again in our home pool,” Cole said.

At the end of Thursday’s competition, the Crimson trailed the defending champion Tigers 444-415 despite winning four of the day’s six events.

“We knew it would be a lot closer than H-Y-P,” Krna said. “We never let it get to us that it was going to be an easy meet.”

But the Crimson used a perfect 5-of-5 mark in relays to steal the lead from Princeton for good on Friday. All weekend long, the Tigers found themselves in a frustrating race for second or third place.

The Crimson’s 200-yard freestyle relay—composed of Krna, freshman Pat Quinn, senior James Lawler, and freshman Geoff Rathgeber—never trailed in an impressive victory over the second-place Tigers. Krna and Lawler, joined by sophomore Joc Christiana and junior David Cromwell, would trounce Princeton again in the 400-yard medley relay.

But in Saturday night’s 400-freestyle relay—the meet’s final event—Harvard gave the visitors further evidence of its dominance. Having already secured the championship after the evening’s earlier competition, the Crimson saw no reason to let up in one of the sport’s most exciting events.

Cromwell, the first to hit the water, put Harvard in third place behind Navy and Brown and just ahead of Columbia, the four teams separated by just 0.13 seconds. It was Quinn’s second leg, however, that propelled the Crimson relay to its convincing victory. Quinn torched the field with a 44.43 split in the race’s second 100 meters. The closest second-leg swimmer clocked in almost a second behind Quinn’s split time.

“I knew we wanted to win. I knew we were going to win,” Quinn said. “Our whole season, [Harvard coach Tim Murphy] has been saying that our goal this season was to send a message. That’s all I was thinking about. I just wanted to send a message to Princeton and let them know that we’re the best team out there.”

The relay highlighted Harvard’s fantastic Saturday, a day that the Crimson began with just a 39-point lead over Princeton and ended with nearly a 100-point victory over the Tigers.

Strong individual performances earlier on Saturday evening gave Harvard a comfortable cushion going into the meet’s final event. Cromwell ended an outstanding weekend with a first-place finish in the 200-yard backstroke, and Rathgeber followed in third.

Rathgeber complemented that performance with a victory in the 200 individual medley and a third-place finish in the 400-yard IM in his first EISL meet.

“Coming in here,” Rathgeber said, “I wanted to prove that I was one of the best IMers in New England.”

Junior Bill Cocks enjoyed a breakout meet as well, establishing himself as the team’s top breaststroker after the graduation of standout Rassan Grant last year.

“I knew it was my job to try to fill [Grant’s] place,” Cocks said. “Last year I didn’t even come in top-24, and it really helped our team out this year. I’m really happy with the way I swam.”

Cocks gave the Crimson valuable points in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events with second- and third- place finishes, respectively. Christiana followed in fifth place, and senior Alex Siroky touched the wall in seventh.

The Crimson got a significant boost in Saturday’s 3-meter diving finals, in which junior Danil Rybalko placed second. Rybalko took second in Thursday’s 1-meter action as well, and freshman Lucas Sanders placed fourth in 3-meter competition and fifth in 1-meter.

But the weekend truly belonged to Cole, who made the best of his first EISL meet since 2003.

Returning to the squad after a year-long hiatus, Cole showed why his name dotted the Harvard recordbooks for the 500-, 1000-, and 1650-yard freestyle events. Cole swept the distance events again, the fourth time he has won all three races at the EISL championships. The accomplishment marks the first time in Ivy League history that a swimmer has swept the three events in each of his four years. Freshman Sam Wollner followed Cole with fourth place-finishes in both the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle.

Cole bested the second-place finisher in the 1650—Dave Ashley from Princeton—by just under 30 seconds and broke his own EISL record by 0.61 seconds. In relay competition, Cole’s critical third leg in the 800-yard freestyle relay put Harvard in first place for good. His efforts earned him the Phil Moriarty Award as the meet’s outstanding swimmer.

Cole was also awarded the Harold Ulen Award, given to the EISL swimmer with the highest point total over his career.

“I set a standard in my first two years [at Harvard],” Cole said, “and I wanted to come back and repeat those wins in the three events. These are good times for me right now.”

Cole will take his Eastern-best times to the NCAA championships, held at the University of Minnesota this year. In 2003, Cole earned All-America honors with a seventh-place finish in the 1650-yard freestyle at NCAAs.

“These seniors have had a really big impact on me,” Quinn said. “John Cole and James Lawler won so many events in this meet, it’s going to be a big loss when they leave.”

Lawler, also returning from a year off in 2004, proved just as dominant in the shorter distances. He opened the meet with a third-place finish in the furious 50-yard freestyle, in which he and teammate Krna—who placed second—finished within 0.01 seconds of one another.

On the weekend, Lawler competed on four out of five relays and, with Cromwell, led a 1-2 finish in the 100-yard butterfly in Friday’s finals. In the 200-yard butterfly on Saturday, Lawler bested his closest competition by over a second, improving upon his 2003 second-place finish.

“They’ve been great all year,” Cocks said of the senior class. “I’m glad to be here with them and I’m glad to see them off after such a great year.”

Fellow seniors Krna, Siroky, Ryan Smith, and Brian Zingale enjoyed their second EISL championship in their careers.

After accepting the championship trophy, the seniors led the team yet again in the pool, this time leaping into the water in celebration—fully clothed.

When Murphy took a voluntary dive from the seven-meter platform—still wearing a tie and khakis—the Crimson swimmers let their EISL victory sink in, treading water with their coach in the lanes they had dominated all weekend.

—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at atait@fas.harvard.edu.