With graduation depleting formerly strong Penn and Brown teams, and powerful rookies buoying already strong Yale and Harvard rosters, this weekend’s H-Y-P tri-meet was more than ever a showcase of the three most powerful women’s swimming teams in the Ivy League. Princeton, six-years-running regular-season league champion, lost key swimmers and came in more vulnerable than ever. And the Elis had been blowing teams out of the water all winter.

And, as happens every three years, this year’s showdown came to New Haven, where abnormally large crowds filled the Kiphuth Memorial Pool all weekend.

All things considered, it was a mildly inopportune time for the women’s swimming team to finally end up on the wrong end of a blowout.

This weekend, the Elis took their first dual meet losses of the season, falling to both Harvard and Princeton in the annual H-Y-P tri-meet. The Bulldogs (8-2, 4-2 Ivy) fell to the Tigers (5-3, 4-1), 192-127, nearly half last year’s margin. But a revamped Crimson (10-0, 7-0) squad, featuring eight freshmen and a sophomore transfer from the University of Tennessee — nine swimmers and divers who accounted for seven individual victories — walked all over the Elis, 222-90.

Despite the pair of resounding losses, the Bulldogs did tout the star of the weekend in Moira McCloskey ’07. While McCloskey was one of five double winners, her winning times in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes — 56.28 and 2:01.05, respectively — were both pool records.

“I got two best times in the middle of the season, and I was really excited about the pool records,” McCloskey said. “It was nice to do that the last time I’ll swim H-Y-P at Yale.”

The only other Eli event victory came in the 50-yard freestyle, where Meg Gill ’07 clocked in at 24.07 to tie Harvard’s Molly Ward for the win.

The biggest problem for the Bulldogs this weekend was depth, which had been a strong point up to this point in the season. The Elis took two out of the top five places only twice and failed to even crack the top five in four events.

This weekend’s action also saw the first stumbles of the class of 2008, with Bulldog rookies placing in the top five only twice. Several freshmen swam slower than they had months ago, when the team was still in the midst of its training.

Some of the freshmen’s slips can be attributed to illness. Caroline Dowd ’08 has been sick since the team’s training trip to Puerto Rico during this past winter break. Katelyn Kane ’08 had a fever all last week.

And perhaps more than any immune deficiency, the rookies’ performances can be chalked up to nerves.

“It’s kind of cliche to say that this is an adjustment year, but it’s true,” Kane said. “I’ve never been to a meet like this, with people cheering for us. It’s really different.”

Despite the lack of Bulldog event victories, several Elis stepped up at the big home meet to swim season and personal bests.

In the 1,000-yard freestyle, Laura Aronsson ’08 made a late charge to catch Princeton’s Ellen Gray on the final lap, beating the Tiger freshman by one-hundreth of a second — in a 40-length race. Aronsson’s time of 10:18.23 is nearly 20 seconds faster than her mark a week ago against Penn and Dartmouth.

Tory Nelson ’07, who has had a tremendously improved sophomore campaign, was the top Bulldog finisher in both the 200-yard butterfly and the 500-yard freestyle. Her time of 5:03.77 in the 500-yard freestyle is a personal best, and her mark of 2:08.70 in the butterfly is a season best.

Finally, captain Caroline Stephenson ’05 led the 400-yard individual medley after the breaststroke, and ended up third in 4:24.10, less than one second away from her top mark last season. Stephenson came in behind only Jane Evans of Harvard — who took second in the event at last year’s Ivy Championships — and the Crimson’s Noelle Bassi.

Bassi, the transfer from Tennessee, placed sixth in the 200-yard butterfly at last summer’s Olympic trials.

With the Ivy League Championships three weeks away, the Elis can take heart in several factors that most likely influenced this weekend’s meet, but will be non-issues a month from now.

The Bulldogs had a busier January than either of their opponents this weekend. Both Harvard and Princeton had competed sparingly in the three weeks prior to the H-Y-P meet because of final exams. The Elis faced six opponents in four meets during that time.

The Bulldogs also suffered from a distinct lack of manpower. Both the Crimson and the Tigers sported squads that were nearly twice as large as the Eli crew.

Despite their huge wins, Harvard coaches and swimmers alike said that late February’s Ivy League Championships could be an entirely different story.

“It’s never easy going, and I never underestimate our opponents,” Harvard head coach Stephanie Morawski said.

The Bulldogs are happy with the times they put up and are optimistic about where they stand with four weeks to go until the championships.

“Everything’s different at Ivies,” Stephenson said. “Here, first place is [worth] more than double second. At Ivies, you don’t need to win, you need a few up at the top, and we can do that. Other teams have kids who can win events, but that won’t cut it. Everyone’s swimming well, and we’re looking forward to seeing what everyone can do.”

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