On Friday, 10 Yale seniors — Emily Cardy, Rebecca Fausel, Meghan Gutekunst, Amy Hancock, Paige Harazin, Kathleen McKeon ’04, Adrienne Mossler, Laura O’Brien, Danielle Page and Daphna Shafir — swam their last races in the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool.
The Eli veterans could ask for little more than a league victory at home to finish off their time with the Bulldogs.
What they got was arguably the meet of their careers.
“The meet was awesome,” O’Brien said. “I’m glad my last competition here was a good one that I can be proud of.”
On Feb. 6, the Yale women’s swim team finished its dual meet season at home with a 155-145 victory over Brown. Despite being down 25 points, 97-72, more than halfway through the meet, a strong back-half performance sealed an impressive Eli comeback. The victory moves the Bulldogs (7-4, 3-3 Ivy) into a tie for third in the Ivy League with the Bears (11-3, 4-3).
“Being down 25 is a pretty big hole to dig oneself into,” Megan Bailey ’06 said. “But we didn’t let that get to us. We didn’t lose our composition and focus.”
The Elis did not lose focus. They did not give up another individual event.
Moira McCloskey ’07 started the Eli comeback with a 2:20.81 in the 200-yard backstroke. Next, Stephenson won the 200-yard breaststroke in 2:22.02. Stephenson had not swum the event all season, but her closest competitor trailed by more than two seconds. The same trio of Eli distance swimmers dominated yet again, as Hession won the 500-yard freestyle in 4:59.85 and Rogers and O’Brien picked up third and fourth, respectively. Rounding out the charge were Knicely and Gill in the 100-yard butterfly, picking up first and second place, respectively, and putting Yale on top 123-122.
The Elis went into the 3-meter diving competition with a tenuous 1-point lead. After an uncharacteristic performance last weekend, the Bulldog divers chose an apt time to regain their normal form, picking up first, second and fifth places. McKeon led the Bulldogs with the win, jumping seven places over her finish last weekend.
“I don’t know why — [the 3-meter dive] just clicked this week,” McKeon said.
Yale had a 10-point lead, 137-127, with two events left — the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard freestyle relay. The Elis knew that they had to close things out in the IM; last year, the Bears broke the Ivy record in the in the freestyle relay.
“Going into the 200 IM, I was a nervous wreck,” Bailey said. “I knew it was going to be close and painful, but that is why you mentally prepare.”
The event started well for Yale, with McCloskey — swimming the event for the first time in dual meet competition — taking an early lead. Stephenson swam the breaststroke leg over a second faster than any other swimmer to pull into second. The two Elis held on for first and second, and Bailey caught Brown’s Lindsay Hoban in the final lengths of the race to take third. Euphoria ensued.
Yale’s sweep put them up 23 points, effectively ending the meet. While Brown’s 200-yard freestyle relays took both first and second, it was not enough.
The meet had not begun well for the Elis. Between the 200-yard medley relay, the 200-yard freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke, the 100-yard breaststroke and the 50-yard freestyle, the Bulldogs lost out on 25 potential points by less than .87 seconds combined.
There were highlights for Yale in the first half. Cristina Hession ’07, O’Brien and Allison Rogers ’05 finished first, second and third, respectively, in the 1000-yard freestyle. Shafir won the 200-yard butterfly in 2:04.86. Melanie Loftus ’05 repeated her performance of a week ago to win the 1-meter competition.
One undeniable factor in the Elis’ comeback was the presence of the Yale men’s swim team, which had a short Friday practice. The Eli men started coming into the stands by the end of the 1-meter competition; their arrival coincided almost exactly with the start of the Bulldog surge. Stephenson swam to victory with the men chanting “Go!” The 500-yard freestyle swimmers were urged along by Fonzie-like cheers of “Eh!” To finish off the comeback, the men took off their shirts and swung them over their heads for the butterfliers.
“I think we got them really fired up,” Tom Hardy ’06 said.
While the comeback marked an incredible performance, the departure of the class of ’04 made the win a bittersweet one.
“It was great for the seniors to finish up like that,” Yale head coach Frank Keefe said. “There are 10 seniors — one-third of the team. They’re a hard group to replace.”
Indeed, the seniors were on everyone’s minds. Showing their typical selflessness, swimmer after swimmer asserted that they were swimming for the seniors first and foremost.
“This was the seniors’ last meet. I wasn’t going to let them down again,” McCloskey said, referring to her loss in the 100-yard backstroke.
The seniors were more than appreciative of their team’s performance. By the end of the meet, the seniors seemed to have set aside all thoughts on their own performances and expressed only a mix of pride and sadness at having their team come through for them in their last meet ever at Yale.
“This is really hard,” Harazin said. “I can’t complain about myself. My team brought me to tears.”