The Harvard swimming team continues its drive down the stretch towards a possible Eastern League title this afternoon in Philadelphia, when it faces a talented Penn squad mired in fifth place.
The Quakers, after making a spectacular climb to the top rung on the Eastern swimming ladder in 1971, have undergone a swift and puzzling collapse during the last two seasons. The senior-dominated team, virtually a carbon-copy of the Eastern champion Penn squad, has dropped lopsided decisions to Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth but has the swimmers to challenge the Crimson.
Harvard, presently tied for second with the Tigers, emerged as a league power while Penn was disintegrating, and barring a Crimson letdown in Philadelphia today or an unexpected Quaker renaissance, Harvard's chances of sharing the league crown will ride completely on the outcome of next Saturday's meet at the IAB with perennial power, league leader and archrival Yale.
The last two years have seen a number of contrasts develop between the swimming programs of Harvard and Penn, irrespective of their present 4-1 and 3-3 league marks. In 1971, when Penn won the Eastern title, the Quakers were a largely sophomore team. Those sophomores are now the nucleus of a largely senior unit, yet they have failed to improve, or in some cases, match their 1971 performances.
Harvard, two years ago, was struggling with a large group of seniors. This season, there are no seniors on the varsity, only three juniors, and the rest are sophomores and freshman and all are improving.
Good morale, team spirit and dedication, attributes which characterized Penn when it won the title, seemed to have suffered considerably in Philadelphia the last two years and may, in fact, explain the Quakers downfall. These same intangible yet vitally important factors were suffering before the arrival of Don Gambril as head coach. Now they serve to explain, at least partially, Harvard's swimming success the last two years.
Unless Penn performs at a level it has failed to attain all season, Harvard should win easily. The Crimson have better times in 10 of 11 swimming events, although the fact that Penn might shave some men could reduce this margin. The Crimson's superiority in the freestyles is clearcut. Rich Baughman should win easily in the 1000-yd. free, especially since Rusty Varley, the Quakers top distance freestyler, has quit the team. Either captain Fred Mitchell or Rich Baughman will be the favorite in the 500.
The 200-yd. free could shape up as a close race with Mitchell and Penn's Ted Kriebel within a second or two of each other, but Harvard's Tim Neville is a strong favorite in the 50-yd. free. The 100-yd. free will probably go to Mitchell, but Kriebel or Atkinson, both of whom swam superb legs on a botched Penn 400-yd. free relay in Harvard's 58-55 upset win last year, could win.
Harvard's Hess Yntema should remain undefeated in his specialty, the 200-yd. butterfly, but either Dave Brumwell or Yntema could be pressed by Atkinson in the 200-yd. individual medley. Brumwell, however, is a sure bet in his specialty, the 200-yd. breast where a Crimson sweep appears to be a strong possibility.