The Yale women’s swim team has had a stellar season to date. Sitting at third in the Ivy League after a couple of narrow victories, the Bulldogs are ready to face all of their old foes again this weekend. The Elis could very well avenge their losses to Harvard and Princeton from earlier this winter.

This is serious. But the team seems more relaxed than ever.

“I think they’re feeling good,” Yale head coach Frank Keefe said. “There’s a sparkle in their eyes, and you can see their energy coming back.”

This Thursday, the Bulldogs will trek to Harvard for the three-day Ivy Championships. The meet will take place over six sessions, two per day, with preliminaries in the morning and finals at night. While Princeton appears to be the heavy favorite to achieve its fifth straight victory at the championships, the fight for second looks to be a close one. For proof, look at the Elis’ margins of victory and defeat in its most recent dual meets: a five-point loss to Harvard, a one-point defeat of Penn, and a ten-point defeat of Brown. With 24 places gaining points, rather than the usual 16, even more swimmers will count for precious points.

“Princeton should run away with the meet,” Keefe said. “I would hope it’s a dogfight between Brown, Harvard and ourselves for second.”

Keefe’s swimmers agree that a run for second is a definite possibility.

“Princeton’s team is really deep and talented,” Paige Harazin ’04 said. “But we’ve been right there with every other team in the league this year, so second place doesn’t seem like too far of a reach.”

The different format of the championship meet plays into the Elis’ strengths. For example, the 1650-yard freestyle should be a good event for the strong group of Bulldog distance swimmers. The 800-yard freestyle relay, in which each swimmer swims 200 yards, should showcase the strong group of Yale middle distance swimmers — a fourth of the top 12 seeds in the 200-yard freestyle are Elis.

“I think adding those events definitely helps us out,” Laura O’Brien ’04 said. “We’re stronger in those areas. The championship format usually goes really well for us.”

Several match-ups have potential to provide high drama this weekend. Most notably, two members of the Elis’ potent freshman corps face particularly daunting tasks.

First there is the 500-yard freestyle. At HYP on Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, Eli distance leader Cristina Hession ’07 fell to the powerful Princeton duo of Sarah Fraumann and Libby Engelmeier in the 1000-yard freestyle. Not only did the two Tigers score first and second, respectively, in the 500 in the Ivy Championships last year, they also took the first and second, respectively, All-Ivy team spots in the event. The three women — Fraumann, Engelmeier, Hession — are seeded one, two and three, respectively.

The 100-yard backstroke pits Yale’s Moira McCloskey ’07 against the only swimmer who has topped her in a backstroke event in dual meet competition this season — Brown senior standout and All-American Liz Daniels. Daniels is both the 2003 Ivy Championship meet winner and the first team All-Ivy swimmer in the event.

These are not the only contests that will be interesting to watch. Harazin is looking to repeat her Ivy Championship meet victory in the 200-yard freestyle, the event she has dominated all season. But while she is seeded first, she faces both Fraumann, seeded second, and Brown’s Toni Pullman — the only swimmer to defeat Harazin in the event this season. Hession gets another shot at Fraumann and Engelmeier at an even longer distance — the 1650-yard freestyle.

Melanie Loftus ’05 and Kathleen McKeon ’04 will be looking to repeat their one-two performance in the 1-meter dive from last year’s meet.

Finally, the Elis will look to capitalize on an extremely strong contingent of individual medley swimmers. McCloskey, with the fourth seed, leads a pack of seven Elis in the 200-yard IM, three of whom are in the top ten and another — Harazin — who was sixth in the event last year. Four Bulldogs, led by Caroline Stephenson ’05 with the fourth seed, are among the top ten for the 400-yard individual medley.

The Bulldogs seem ready to perform this weekend, and while some are nervous, the team is confident in its ability to do well.

“I think we’re ready to swim fast,” captain Amy Hancock said. “We’ve done all the work — we trained really hard this year and now we are ready to stand up and swim fast.”

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