This weekend, the Harvard men’s swimming and diving team faced its toughest test of the season yet.
On the heels of three straight wins against Northeast opponents, the Crimson travelled to Athens, Ga. to race against some of the fastest teams in the country. The UGA Invitational pitted Harvard against six top-10 teams, including two-time defending national champion California.
But in the most competitive meet of the season thus far, sophomore Chuck Katis anchored the Crimson’s sixth place showing with a series of record shattering individual performances.
“I think we were really successful in stepping up our game for these guys,” Katis said.
Katis set school records in gold-medal swims in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. His times in both finals met the NCAA ‘A’ standards, qualifying him immediately for the 2013 NCAA Championships.
“He looked incredibly strong in the water,” co-captain Greg Roop said. “He beat some of the fastest people from the fastest teams in the country by a pretty safe margin. It was very inspiring to see him swim like that.”
Katis kicked off the UGA Invitational on Friday with a solid showing in the 200 individual medley, setting a new personal record en route to a fourth-place finish. His time of 1:46.34 was just 1.19 seconds off the Harvard program record.
But the best was yet to come. On Saturday, Katis broke his own school record with a time of 52.65 in the prelim swim of the 100 breast. Just hours later, Katis clocked in an even better time of 52.49 in the finals for the event, beating out All-American Trevor Hoyt of Cal for the victory.
Having beaten the ‘A’ standard time by 0.11 seconds, Katis secured his berth to the 2013 NCAA Championships in the event.
But the sophomore was not done yet. On Sunday, Katis hit the pool for the 200 yard breast stroke. Yet again, he bested his own school record in the prelims, with a time of 1:54.57.
Katis then went on to shave nearly half a second off his time in the finals en route to a second win and yet another ‘A’ standard time. His final time of 1:54.08 was the second best time in the country this year.
“Chuck has an incredible focus on his training so far this year,” Roop said. “He goes down the pool for two or three extra workouts each week. He is extremely focused. When we got to this meet, you could see that he was really dialed in and ready to swim fast.”
In one of the final events of the meet, Katis teamed up with junior Chris Satterthwaite, fellow sophomore Griffin Schumacher, and junior Oliver Lee in the 400 yard freestyle relay. The Crimson finished in third with a time of 2:55.45.
“[When] we came in [to this meet], everyone had different levels of rest, taper, and shave, Katis said. “We put together a lot of great relays. A lot of the guys had lifetime bests, and they weren’t even 100% prepared, they weren’t fully rested or shaved. That says something about what our team is capable of, really stepping up to the next level with the top teams in the country. It’s where we need to be.”
The exposure to the best programs in college swimming gave Katis and the Crimson a taste of what they can expect later on in the season, as they look ahead towards the Ivy League and NCAA Championships.
Last year, Katis was one of five swimmers to represent the Crimson at the NCAA finals. He picked up a 25th place finish in the 200 breast stroke and finished in 20th place in the 100 event. He also earned All-American honorable mention accolades as a part of the Crimson’s 400 free relay team.
For Katis, the UGA meet was an important benchmark towards propelling the Crimson into the top ranks of intercollegiate swimming.
The sophomore has punched his ticket to the NCAA Championships, and he hopes his teammates will soon follow suit.
“I really want to lead a big group of guys to the NCAA,” Katis said. “Whether or not people get cuts now or later at our conference meet, it is a really important step for our team to make. We have an incredibly fast recruiting class coming in next year. We have work to do, but these are just stepping stones on the way to becoming a top 20, top 10 school.”