Starting today, Blodgett Pool will be a beehive of activity as swimmers from colleges across the nation stride in to meet the challenge of the Harvard men's and women's swimming teams in the Harvard Invitational.
The tournament starts with preliminary races today at 10 a.m. and finals at 6 p.m. Tomorrow, a second set of preliminary races will begin and end at the same time. Sunday's schedule is yet to be determined.
The men will face Yale, Penn State, Villanova, Syracuse. The women will also face Yale, Villanova and Syracuse as well as Indiana.
For the men's team, the Harvard Invitational is the first real step forward the season has to offer.
"This is an important step for the men's team," Assistant Coach David Flocco said. "We need to see tough swimming, race smart, and be mentally focused."
The men have a number of strong swimmers to watch. Junior Tim Carver in backstroke and co-captain Richard Ou in breaststroke are expected to fare well. In addition, the team has high hopes for senior diver Craig Narveson and local favorite Rick Osterberg (Newton, Mass.) in the middle distance freestyle.
"They will be in the top three in their events," Flocco predicted flatly.
The team faces stiff competition from all sides, but Ivy rival Yale will be the toughest test for Harvard.
"They'll be our toughest competitor," Flocco said. "They have a lot of depth and good swimmers."
Yale swimmers to watch are Jason Rosenbaum, perhaps their best swimmer in sprint events, and Adam Vann, a strong distance swimmer.
Penn State, a Big-10 Powerhouse, will also pose a strong challenge to Harvard. The team features two freshman phenoms: Sean Anderson, a freestyler and backstroker, was the Connecticut state champion in those events, and Alex Kumha, out of Sudbury, Mass., is a speedy individual medley swimmer.
The Nittany Lions will also put pressure the Crimson's diving squad.
"The have the strongest diving corps at the meet," Flocco said.
Syracuse, an up-and coming team, will feature backstroker Jamie Secor and butterfly specialist Sebastian Goulet.
Villanova also is bringing freshman stars to the contest, with Tom Tracy in the backstroke and the fly, Mike Melley in the freestyle, and Bryan Blitzer in the sprint freestyle.
The women are also looking to use this race to gauge their competition and see how their training is going.
"We want to race well, but we want to see where we are as a whole," co-captain Kristen Gately said.
The women are counting on strong performances from co-captain Deborah Kory in the breaststroke and individual medley and on Caroline Miller in the butterfly and IM. They also have high hopes for freshman backstroker Kathy Liu and sophomore distance swimmer Gretta Steffenson.
Harvard's depth is particularly advantageous, given the format of the tournament. The top eight finishers in the preliminary races will race in the evening finals, and the ninth through the 16th finishers in the pre-liminaries will race in the evening consolations.
The competition the Harvard women will face will also be formidable.
"It's going to be a fast meet," co-captain Sabrina Corlette said.
The women would like to get a measure of revenge on Yale, to whom they lost a close duals match last spring. Still, Yale, bringing by far the largest team to the meet (36 swimmers to Harvard's 24), has lots of depth in all areas and will be no pushover.
"This tournament will be a good indicator of how the Yale duals [in January] will go," Corlette said.
Villanova comes to the tournament with a reputation for being one of the fastest teams in the East. It finished in the top 25 at the NCAA tournament last year, and remain a speedy foe.
Indiana, the team making the longest trek to Cambridge, has the advantage of coming into the tournament well-rested. In addition, they are coached by former Harvard assistant coach Nancy Nitardy.
Corlette regards the race as an opportunity for team bonding. "We'll relax, enjoy ourselves, and get out there and race."