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Once it got into a New York state of mind, the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team left them all behind.
Only, with a Nor’easter bearing down on New England Friday evening, it took a bit longer than expected.
Having planned to reach New York City on Friday night for one last practice prior to a stay in New Jersey and the following day’s meet at Columbia, the Crimson instead chose to avoid the uncleared roads in favor of a night at a hotel in Stamford, Conn. With no pool in which to adequately practice and their final destination still hours away, Harvard’s swimmers made due with the resources at their disposal.
“We had planned to get to the pool around five and have a warm-up then,” freshman Emily Wilson said. “The hotel pool was about 12 yards long and we could fit about maybe eight people in it. We could take three strokes before a flip turn.”
But despite all its troubles actually reaching the waters, the Crimson (5-0, 5-0 Ivy) upended Columbia 206.5-93.5 and Penn 160-140, avenging last year’s dual-season loss to the Quakers and solidifying the squad’s best start to a season since a nine-meet winning streak to open the 1999-2000 campaign.
Unlike previous meets this season in which Harvard touched the wall first in most events, the Crimson won just eight of the 16 events, while Penn (3-3, 2-2) sprinted to seven first-place performances and the Lions (2-2, 1-2) took the three-meter diving event.
The Quakers sent Harvard reeling early with five victories in the first seven events. Only Crimson wins from sophomore Emily Stapleton in the 100-yard backstroke and freshman Stacy Blondin in the 200-yard butterfly interrupted the Penn run. The two were the only Harvard swimmers to win multiple events on the day.
With two pool records in those first seven events, Penn seemed primed to repeat its performance of a year ago, in which the Quakers used six victories in the first seven races as a springboard to a dominant victory.
Like last year, Penn had catered its schedule around excelling against the Crimson, tapering its workouts in order to have additional energy at race time. Also like last year, the Quakers were smoother gliding through the water—previously the result of a more aptly timed shave, this go-around thanks to the speed-enhancing body suits that reduce friction as a swimmer cuts through the water.
“We guessed that they would,” Stapleton said. “Usually they back off in their training the weeks prior [to this meet] the way we do before Ivies,” Stapleton said. “All the other teams in the Ivies save their fast skins for Ivies.”
But unlike last year, Harvard would not be held to just two event victories. Instead, the Crimson rattled off six wins compared to Penn’s two in the final nine events to solidify victory.
“We were complimented almost that they shaved and tapered for our meet,” Stapleton said. “We were looking for a challenge. We needed to be tested.”
Freshman Annika Giesbrecht and junior Anne Osmun secured Harvard’s first 1-2 finish of the afternoon in event eight—the one-meter dive—setting the stage for the Crimson turnaround.
Two events later, Stapleton coasted to victory in the 200-yard backstroke, winning by 2.09 seconds and initiating a string of five Harvard victories in six events.
“We had talked as a team about not getting flustered if the first events didn’t go our way,” Stapleton said. “I think it was important to get a win in just to build a little momentum.”
With the rising energy, the first-years took over.
Freshman Kelly Blondin took first in the 200-yard breaststroke before classmates Laurin Weisenthal and Wilson held off four Quakers for a 1-2 finish in the 500 freestyle.
“[Wilson] really had a comeback swim,” Stapleton said. “She was third about halfway through and almost caught the girl who won.”
The gritty performance torpedoed what could have been a golden opportunity for Penn to cut into Harvard’s lead, but ultimately provided additional motivation for the Crimson.
“It was a turning point in the meet,” Wilson said. “We had lost a few events beforehand and we were concerned about whether or not we would win the meet.”
Stacy Blondin captured the 100 butterfly for her second win of the day, eking out a 0.52-second victory two events before freshman LeeAnn Chang left opponents in her wake with a 2.36-second victory in the 200-yard individual medley, guaranteeing the Crimson victory.
Harvard now towels off for winter break before returning to Blodgett Pool on Jan. 10 for a meet with crosstown foe Northeastern.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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