It was the second-place finishers, not the event winners, who gave the Harvard women's swim team a tension-packed 67-64 victory over a tough UMass team last night at the IAB.
Going into the last four events of the meet, the crucial section of last night's contest, UMass held a narrow 49-48 lead over the Crimson swimmers. In the first of those four events, the 500-yd. freestyle, versatile Maura Costin cruised to an easy victory, but the real story in that race was Harvard's Sharon Beckman.
Carrying a body-length lead over UMass's Mary Ellen Butler for 18 of the 20 laps, Beckman used all her stamina to out-touch Butler for the important second-place finish by just 15 seconds.
Her swim gave Harvard an 8-1 victory in the event and an important 56-50 lead in the meet. In the next event, the 100-yd. breaststroke, Harvard also needed at least a second-place finish to hang onto the lead and have enough points to eventually win the meet.
Breaststroker Nancy Danoff came through with that second-place performance, edging out Massachusetts' Alix DonHartog by one-half second. Her three points kept Harvard on top, 59-56, with only the diving and 200-yd. freestyle relay remaining.
These two events went according to the plans of Harvard coaches Stephanie Walsh and Paula Newman. In the diving, UMass's strong drivers took first and second places and an 8-1 victory in the event as Sue Abkowitz took third for the Crimson aquawomen.
But those second-place swims of Danoff and Beckman kept Harvard within four points, 64-60, with only the seven-point, winner-take-all relay ahead. And as expected, the strong relay team of Leslie Landefeld, Mary Ellen Mangano, Jane Fayer, and Maura Costin brought home the win with a time of 1:46.6, a new team record, breaking the old mark of 1:47.7.
So screaming and hoisting coach Walsh into the pool, the Harvard women ended their dual-meet season with a 67-64 win and a 5-4 record.
Climbing out of the pool, Walsh said, "It was a tight meet, and our strategy in placing our swimmers was key. I had faith in the girls, and they came through with good swims."
The strategy must have been good, because after the meet, UMass coach Eve Atkinson turned to Walsh and said, "I want you to tell me how you did it. On paper, I thought I had you beat."
Consistent Jane Fayer contributed her usual load of points, winning the 50-, 100-, and 200-yd. freestyles in times of 26.4, 58.2, and 2:06.4, respectively.
The other workhorse, multi-talented Costin, added wins in the 100-yd. individual medley (1:04.5) and 100-yd. butterfly (1:04.8) to her victory in the 500-yd. freestyle (5:30.2).
Backstroker Leslie Landefeld also chipped in two first-place efforts with wins in the 50-yd. backstroke (31.8) and the 100-yd. backstroke (1:09.6).
After the meet, Crimson senior co-captain Jane Hendricks said she was glad to finish her swimming career with a win.
"It was a good year," she said, "the team came together and produced almost 100 personal-best times in February alone."
After three years with Harvard swimming, Hendricks could look back and smile, saying, "There's a really big difference between the time I started swimming at Harvard and now."
Indeed she was part of a strong team this year.