Clarke Impresses in Championship Meet

Freshman highlights strong Crimson effort in NCAA Championships

The Harvard women’s swimming and diving team had three representatives at the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. this weekend. Junior diver Samantha Papadakis and senior swimmer Noelle Bassi both repeated their 2006 appearances in the meet, but it was newcomer Alexandra Clarke that impressed the most.

On Saturday at the Minnesota Aquatic Center, Clarke placed 17th in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 16:21.43, just one spot short of being named an All-American. Although she was out of scoring range, she still managed to reset her school record in the 1000-yard with her start in the race.

“Getting 17th in the mile is a huge incentive for next year,” Clarke said. “That’s what I take most from this tournament—the experience. It’s a great learning tool.”

On Thursday, Clarke was the first to represent the Crimson, placing 41st in a 65-person field in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:50.44. The next day, she swam the 200-yard freestyle in 1:49.98 to achieve a 58th-place finish.

“Although I didn’t place as high as I wanted to, or go the fastest of my times, I think it’s great to be here as a freshman,” Clarke said.

Papadakis, who is also a Crimson sports editor, placed 29th in the three-meter dive, logging 290.50 points to improve upon her 35th-place finish last year. Despite missing her second dive, Papadakis consistently scored sixes and sevens on the rest of her dives to climb the standings.

“If had I made that dive [in the three-meter], I think I would have been in the top 16, but I definitely feel that I held my own,” she said. “I did some great stuff—more great stuff than bad stuff—which is always what you want, but I’m definitely pleased with the consistency of my overall performance.”

Papadakis competed in the one-meter dive on Friday and placed 30th with a score of 279.05. Last weekend, she took second in this event at the NCAA Zone Diving Tournament, allowing her to appear at the NCAA Championships for the second year in a row.

“I certainly walked in with more experience having competed last year,” Papadakis said. “That eased some nerves, but in terms of competing here, it doesn’t get any easier.”

Bassi has been an NCAA qualifier for all four of her collegiate years and an All-American twice. But this year, she entered the tournament under different circumstances, having been troubled by knee and back injuries for most of this season.

On Saturday, Bassi swam in the 200 butterfly, touching the wall in 2:00.89 for a 32nd-place finish. Last year, Bassi finished 14th in the event with a time of 1:59.43 and gained an All-American distinction.

“When you’re up against that kind of competition, it’s tough,” she said. “The meet is getting faster. There is always pressure to perform well for yourself and Harvard, but I’m happy with my performance. I look forward to the next chapter of my life.”

Despite the senior’s departure, the performance of freshman Alexandra Clarke offers hope for the future.

“[Clarke] was just out of scoring range, so it’s comforting for the next three years,” Bassi said. “She did well and was upbeat and handled herself very well.”

The NCAA Championships marked the end of the collegiate season for the Crimson, but this year’s tournament reflected an improvement for Harvard. For the past two years only two members of the Crimson competed in the event.

“It is definitely nice to have more numbers here,” Papadakis said. “Last year it was only Noelle and me, so it’s great to have three of us here competing.”