The 2002-03 version of Yale swimming is about to take off and the Bulldog swimmers and divers are ready. Both the men’s and the women’s teams are poised to build on the successes of the 2001-2002 teams and significantly impact their respective conference championship races.

“There is no reason this season shouldn’t be better than last year,” women’s captain Catey Bradford ’03 said.

A freshman class full of high school All-Americans, combined with the experience of several Bulldogs veterans will help the women in their efforts to improve upon last year’s 12-1 dual meet record and fourth place finish in the Ivy League swim meet. While the women retain most of their talent and add a strong freshman class, the men must fill the spots vacated by last year’s talented senior class.

For the women, freestyler Heidi Kraus ’03, who was last year’s Ivy League Swimmer of the year, and Susan Cooke ’03 will anchor the Bulldogs. Both Kraus and Cooke set university records last season in the 1,000 freestyle and 200 and 400 individual medleys, respectively.

While Bradford, Kraus and Cooke comprise the senior leadership for the swim team, diver Bates Gregory ’03 — who qualified for the NCAA the championships last season — should be one of the Bulldogs’ top divers this winter. Although Gregory is still recovering from a broken leg, Bradford expects Gregory will be back on the diving board soon.

With 11 juniors, the Class of 2004 is the largest class on this year’s team and will provide in terms of depth what the seniors provide in terms of leadership. Daphna Shafir ’04, who is the University record-holder in the 200 butterfly, Amy Hancock ’04, who was a conference finalist in both the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley last season and Page Harazin ’04, who was a conference finalist in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles, should be key contributors in Yale’s push toward a perfect dual meet record and top-three finish at the Ivy League championships.

Rounding out this year’s returning team members are nine sophomores including record-setting diver Melanie Loftus ’05. Setting University records on the one and three meter springboards and 10-meter platform last season, Loftus has established a high standard performance for herself in the Ivy League.

“They’ve got to learn to step up and move to the next level,” head coach Frank Keefe said of the sophomores. “With the freshmen, it is too early to tell. Many of them come in here with good credentials, but the adjustment to college life can be monumental. The sophomore class has been here a year. It’s their time.”

It all starts with the Columbia dual meet on Nov. 15 — one of the only home meets of the year and the only home Ivy League meet — and culminates with H-Y-P in early February and the Ivy Championships four weeks later.

As the women’s team prepares to improve upon last year’s performance, the men’s team hopes that they can repeat last year’s performance.

Last year was quite successful for the Bulldogs, including a 14-1 dual met record and third place finish at the Eastern Interscholastic Swim League Championships. With its dramatic come from behind victory against Princeton at H-Y-P last February, the men’s team became the first in intercollegiate swimming history to post 1,000 dual meet wins.

The loss of five Eastern Interscholastic Swim League scorers, however, including NCAA qualifier, Mike Schulte ’03 — who holds the University record in the 1,650 freestyle — will not go unnoticed. But men’s captain Greg Palumbo ’03 remains confident.

“I feel as if we will be able to not only make up for their loss, but we should be able to build upon last year’s results and successes with the addition of the freshmen class,” Palumbo said.

As with the women, the eight freshmen on this year’s men’s team come to New Haven highly decorated, with various high school championships and All-America honors. Of course, it is too early to assess the impact they will make.

“Every year, you figure that the team will change by about 25 percent and with the freshmen, you take what you can get,” said Keefe.

Just like his female cohorts, diver Josh Gallant ’04 rewrote the Bulldog record book in both the 1- and 3-meter springboard competitions on his way to a first-place finish on the 1-meter board at EISLs last year.

While he has met with a lot of success over the years, Keefe keeps it all in perspective.

“My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter where we finish in the end, as a team,” he said. “Sure, you’d like to win, but how much better did each individual get? You may have a good team, but if the individuals are not improving, it’s no big deal.”

The women’s team starts their season Nov. 15 at home against Columbia, while the men start Nov. 22 when they travel to Boston College.