Looking towards tough training, swimmers host Nutmeg Invitational

Extra practices, increased training, and course finals may not mix well with two-day swim meets. But the message is clear for Yale’s men’s and women’s swim teams — there will be no excuses this season.

“We have to learn how to adapt to our training better so we can get up and race,” men’s swimming team captain Dave Lange ’05 said. “It’s a lot of swimming crammed into 48 hours, but no excuses — it’s the same way for conference meets.”

The Yale men’s and women’s swimming teams competed in the two-day Nutmeg Invitational last weekend, held at the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool in three separate sessions between Saturday and Sunday.

Both by design and due to snow, last year’s Nutmeg was a smaller meet, with only three teams making the trip down to New Haven. But this year’s field included 10 teams from a multitude of collegiate conferences, including the Big East’s Syracuse, Atlantic 10′s University of Massachusetts and NESCAC’s Williams.

Several swimmers said the meet’s position — in the middle of difficult training and right before finals — made it difficult to swim fast. But the swimmers also said the meet was necessary to maintain focus as the tough training of the season begins.

“It’s mentally challenging, but it’s also important to stay sharp before the training trip [to Puerto Rico],” Erin Carlstrom ’05 said. “It’s good to get in the right mindset. It’s difficult with papers and finals, but that’s what we’re here for.”

Even when they failed to race their fastest, Eli swimmers did make several trips to the winners’ podium.

The women’s team particularly dominated the distance events, with Cristina Hession ’07 winning the 500-yard freestyle and Laura Aronsson ’08 and Allison Rogers ’05 going one-two in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

Captain Caroline Stephenson ’05 added a third individual victory for the Bulldogs in the 400-yard individual medley, an event that saw five Elis place in the top ten and three in the top five. While neither the 400-yard IM nor the 1,650-yard freestyle is swum in dual meets, the Bulldogs’ strong performances in those events bodes well for when those events are held at the Ivy Championships.

Finally, the Elis showcased their depth in the 200-yard freestyle with a win in the 800-yard freestyle relay. The team of Hession, Katelyn Kane ’08, Chase Butler ’07 and Nicole Swaney ’08 not only won the event but managed to catch a Boston College foursome that led by more than a second at the halfway mark.

The men found similar success in the distance events, with Kent Garber ’07 and John Atkinson ’05 taking first and second place, respectively, in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

The similarities continued through the 800-yard freestyle relay, where the team of Kieran Locke ’06, Atkinson, Quinn Fitzgerald ’05 and Andrew Foss ’07 took first. Relays were a strength for the Bulldog men all weekend, with the 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay teams both taking second and the 400-yard freestyle team taking third.

Geof Zann ’07 provided the other individual win of the weekend in the 100-yard backstroke. And while he was beaten out in the 200-yard distance by the University of Massachusetts’ Evan Swisher, Elis took half of the top six spots in that event.

Swimmers from other schools said that the meet was in a difficult position for them as well, due to increased training and imminent finals. But most added they were glad to know they were working towards better times when the workload lessens later on in the season.

“Sometimes it’s too much, overwhelming really, but in the end it’s all worth it,” Southern Connecticut State University freshman Monica Kawecki said. “I’ve never trained this hard, so my times aren’t as good as they could be, but I know by the end of the season they’ll be where I want them to be.”

When asked to describe what he thought of the meet, Yale head coach Frank Keefe was quick to give a concise answer.

“Long,” he said.

“It’s basically a training meet,” Keefe said. “We’re swimming all of the NCAA events in two days, but the NCAAs are three days.”

Keefe said that he saw the meet as a chance to fit some racing into what would otherwise be a long period of continuous training.

“We haven’t had a meet since before Thanksgiving and we won’t have another one until January,” he said. “That would be a month and a half without competition. This is another chance to get up and swim.”

But Keefe made it clear that he did not expect any less out of his swimmers at the Nutmeg.

“I’m never OK with how the team swims,” Keefe said. “I always expect more. Every time we swim, there’s a chance to get better — better times, better technique, better attitude. When you aren’t making those improvements, you’ve got to step back and reevaluate what you’re doing.”

Potential for improvement was visible in the disconcerting number of Bulldog swimmers who were disqualified. Stephenson, Tom Hardy ’06 and Joe Mack ’05 were disqualified in the 200-yard breaststroke and the men’s 200-yard medley relay team was caught by the referees as well.

The disqualifications were not unique to Yale swimmers, and several swimmers commented that the refereeing was particularly strict. But several swimmers admitted that the disqualifications indicated room to improve upon team performance.

“It’s a lack of focus,” Lange said. “Those are the things we really need to tighten up. We can’t have slips like that. Regardless of the times, we have to execute well.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams next compete Jan. 9 at Maine. In the interim, the Elis face their toughest training of the season, including a training trip to Puerto Rico over winter break.

“People know this is when the focus shifts towards academics, but as long as people keep showing up we’ll be fine,” Lange said. “I’ll be letting the guys know this is the hardest time. There’s a ton of yardage — it’s really important to take this seriously and come to Puerto Rico ready to roll.”

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