Male Rookie of the Year: Eric Ronda

He may have been one of the youngest members of the Harvard men’s swimming and diving team but that didn’t stop freshman Eric Ronda from making a splash in his rookie year. In his inaugural season for the Crimson, Ronda quickly adjusted to the fast-paced tempo of collegiate swimming.

Ronda was the only swimmer on the Ivy League Championship squad to qualify individually for the 2014 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, competing in the 100 and 200 breaststroke races.

Ronda’s high school swimming career prepared him well to compete on a national stage against some of the nation’s best swimmers.

“Eric was very fortunate that he’s been on the U.S. National Junior Team, so he had a high level of experience before he got here,” Harvard coach Kevin Tyrrell said. “So that made the transition easier for him.”

Despite his impressive swimming resume, the rookie still had to make adjustments transitioning into Tyrrell’s program.

“He’s very talented and he’s very strong but he isn’t particularly efficient,” Tyrrell said. “He learned how to do a better job at controlling his stroke, which made him go faster.”

In the season’s first meet against Dartmouth and Cornell, Ronda also earned his first wins of his collegiate career by claiming the top of the podium in the 100 and 200 breast. The pair of victories was Ronda’s first of three sweeps on the season of his two primary events. In the final dual meet of the season, Ronda swept the events for a third time against Penn with a time of 56.73 seconds in the 100 breast.

Facing top-tier talent, Ronda’s 11th place finish in the 200 breast at the Texas Invite gave him the chance to compete on a national stage during the regular season, and he finished with a time of 1:58.60.

But the freshman’s best time in the 200 breast came at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, arguably the most important meet of the regular season, as the victory enabled the Crimson to capture the Ivy League regular season title. Ronda’s time of 1:57.13 was a personal best and broke Yale’s pool record by almost a full second.

Ronda also contributed crucial points to the team’s Ivy League Championship victory. The freshman took second in both the 100 and 200 breast events, falling to Dartmouth’s Nejc Zupan, who was the only other Ivy League qualifier for the NCAA Championships.

“Learning to swim for different coaches is always a transition, and he adjusted by the end of the season but he had some ups and downs during the year,” Tyrrell said.

All the hard work and training from the regular season showed in strong swims at the national championships. Ronda finished 28th in the 200 breast with a time of 1:56.15 and took 39th in the 100 breast, clocking in at 54.4. Though he did not qualify for the finals in either event, the meet was an important learning experience to cap off a season of adjustments.

Along with his strong individual performances throughout the season, equally significant was Ronda’s ability to find his role on the team.

“High school swimming is a much more individual sport,” co-captain Chris Satterthwaite said. “A lot of it is about chasing after your best time to get recruited by colleges and putting yourself on the map. Ronda did a very good job about embracing the goals of the team and really embracing the bigger ideal. He is an incredibly hard worker, which we saw in and out of the pool every day.”

The Greenwich, Conn. native was also a member of the often-victorious 200 and 400 medley relay teams, swimming the breaststroke leg of each race.

With a year of college swimming under his belt, the coaching staff is expecting even bigger things from him next year as he has already improved leaps since he entered the pool in September.

And with a strong senior class graduating, Ronda looks to play an even bigger role in the Crimson’s future success. Being one of just a few swimmers on the team with NCAA experience, others will be looking to him as a role model. Ronda’s success will perhaps show how a newcomer can make a splash in his first season with the Crimson.

—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at thebert@college.harvard.edu.

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