The time has come to see if the women’s swim team can finally tame the Tigers — or if the Elis will be left seeing stripes.
The Elis (9-3, 4-3 Ivy) begin their stand at the Ivy League Championships, held today through Saturday at Princeton. The meet features trials in the morning sessions and finals in the evening sessions, with a total of 21 events to be competed over the three-day event.
The consensus favorite is still-undefeated Harvard (10-0, 7-0). The high-powered Crimson squad defeated every Ivy League opponent by at least 50 points and may run away with things in a hurry.
But the fans at DeNunzio Pool are likely to see a battle for second place. While Princeton’s (7-3, 5-1) five-year reign over the Ancient Eight will most likely come to an end Saturday night, the Tigers are expected to finish right behind the Crimson.
Brown (6-4, 5-2) will also factor into the mix. The Bears suffered more than any team in the league from graduation last year, losing a talented corps of mostly sprinters, including perennial Ivy sprint champ Liz Daniels. After their 169-191 defeat of Yale moved the team into third in the league, Brown will be coming into this weekend’s action ready to make another strong showing.
The biggest question for the Elis is simply whether everyone will be able to swim her fastest. The answer has been no for most of the winter. Many team members, especially several freshmen, were ill for long periods of time after the team’s return from winter break.
Team members said they believe that coming into the championship, the whole squad is finally healthy and ready to make an impact.
“[Head coach] Frank [Keefe] talked to us this week about how we haven’t had a chance to all swim fast together,” Katelyn Kane ’08, who swam the H-Y-P meet with a fever, said. “But we’re all really excited to swim fast now, and I really hope we can do a lot better.”
Bulldog rookies will be the deciding factor this weekend. After playing large roles in the early part of the season, many of the Eli freshmen have been lackluster in the past few meets, whether due to illness or having to adjust to a new training schedule. If the Bulldogs are healthy and rested this weekend, the freshmen should be back in top form.
One Eli who must have a solid weekend if Yale hopes to make a run for second is Moira McCloskey ’07. The sophomore is seeded first in both the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes, but McCloskey — who was seeded first in both events last year but took second in the 200 and fifth in the 100 — said the rankings are inconsequential.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” she said. “The seeds are based on season times, and everything is different at conference meets. I just see everyone as a competitor, and hopefully the races will go well.”
And while the sophomore is expected to do well in the backstroke races, perhaps more important is her role in the 200-yard individual medley — where she leads the Bulldogs with the eighth seed — and the relays.
The Bulldogs will also need big performances from a pair of seniors: Melanie Loftus ’05 and captain Caroline Stephenson ’05.
Loftus, arguably the most talented diver in the league, won the 1-meter competition at the 2003 Ivy Championships but failed to even make the finals last year, finishing eighth on the 3-meter board. Loftus is capable of winning both boards and could give her teammates a big boost.
Stephenson could break into the finals of the 200-meter individual medley, where she is seeded 10th. But more importantly, she holds the fourth seed at the 400-yard distance, her best event. After placing third in the event at H-Y-P, where she led for 300 yards, the Yale captain may have a shot at first — if she can catch Harvard near-Olympian Noelle Bassi.
Stephenson also heads a deep Eli squad in the 200-yard breaststroke with the third seed. With Kirsten Cartoski ’07, Caroline Dowd ’08 and Holly Mazar ’06 in the seventh, eighth and 13th spots, respectively, look for Yale to make a big dent in the scoreboard in the event.
“I feel confident,” Stephenson said. “It’s the one event I’m not all that experienced in, so I’m more relaxed for it. It’s also the last day, the last race of my career, so my adrenaline alone will help.”
Two other areas where the Bulldogs should capitalize are the 100-yard butterfly and the 100- and 200-yard medley relays.
Unfortunately, there are distinct problem spots for the Elis as well — most notably, distance freestyle.
At the 500-yard distance, Nicole Swaney ’08 is the top-seeded Eli in the 12th spot. But the freshman has struggled lately, last swimming the event at H-Y-P, where she swam more than seven seconds slower than her seed time. The 1650 is also precarious, with only two Yale entrants: 15th-seeded Laura Aronsson ’08 and No. 19 Allison Rogers ’05. The pair will have to swim extremely well if the Elis do not wish to take a big hit in the 66-lap marathon.
Many Elis are looking more to beat Brown and have few pretensions about catching Princeton.
“I think they’re pretty slim,” Christine Yurechko ’08 said, referring to the team’s chances of beating Princeton. “But if we have a good meet and they don’t, we can narrow the gap from H-Y-P and give them a scare.”
But team members recognized that this is the healthiest the team has been all year. And while the chances of beating Princeton in the Tigers’ pool are distinctly low, many Elis said that coming in second is a plausible aim.
“We definitely have a strong team, and Princeton lost some people,” McCloskey said. “I couldn’t tell you for sure if we’re in definite reach, but if we swim best times I don’t think it’s a goal we can count out.”