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Bobby Hackett, the individual most associated with Harvard's rise to Eastern swimming dominance in the short span of four years, was graduated last June with senior standouts Geoff Seelan and Mike Coglin.
But the prayers of other Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League (ESL) coaches have not been answered. The aquamen have not disappeared down the drains of Blodgett Pool, Preparing for a weekend jaunt to open the season against Columbia, and then to the Naval Academy Sunday. Harvard men's swimming flourishes.
"It's a different kind of team this year," coach Joe Bernal said before a workout this week. "In the past, we called on Bobby to be our fireman, to put out the opposition. This year, the whole team has decided to fill that void, not just a single individual."
Case in point: Against Columbia in New York Saturday, the Crimson will face one of the premier distance freestylers in the nation. Tony Corbisicro. After Bernal posted a preliminary lineup, junior captain Ted Chappell complained because he was not listed for the 1000 free. "He told me, 'I want him, coach,' " Bernal said.
Case in point: Sophomore sprint sensation Mike Miao avoided the 200 free all of last season. Recently, he came to Bernal and pleaded to be placed in the event against the Lions.
But the aquamen may have their hands full this weekend. "We're better prepared than in the last three years," Columbia mentor DonGalluzzi said yesterday.
Galluzzi does not speak idly. The Lions have invited their boosters to pre-and postmeet receptions, and it is more than likely that Columbia will shave for the meet, the ultimate psyche in the sport.
For the Lions to take Harvard, Galluzzi said, they will need to perform in diving, the sprints, and the 200 backstroke and breast. Also, Columbia will be depending on Corbisiero, Lincoln Djang, and top freshman recruit Ross Kutsunai to come through.
"There is a gap between us and Harvard." Galluzzi said, adding, "the outcome will depend on how many depth points Harvard can come up with."
Depth is overabundant at Blodgett Pool. The travelling squad of 26 carries Miao, Jim Carbone and Jack Gauthier in the sprints. Dave Phillips and Dean Putterman are tops in the East in the 200 back and breast, respectively. In the distance events, NCAA qualifier Larry Countryman and Chappell have never lost to Corbisiero in a duel meet. And Jeff Mule ruled one board and took second on the other at Easterns last year.
Then, there are the freshmen. The top recruit is Dave Barnes from Mission Viejo, a four-time AAU Nationals finalist, with butterflyer Billy McCloskey, and sprinter Brian Crottkau and Bob Hrabchak--all three All-Americans--following closely.
On the boards, coach John Walder is looking for yardling Dave Watson, a three-time national age group champion, to be a catalyst, "Realistically, with Muje and Watson, we could have two divers in the NCAA finals this year."
At Navy, the Midshipment will be dedicating a new pool, built by the designers of Blodgett and claimed to be the fastest in the East. But fast swimmers will win out over fast pools, anytime.
"We like to meet a competitor that feels they can challenge us," Bernal said about the weekend's slate. "And we'll be ready for them."
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