They may not be shooting for gold, but the members of the Yale men’s swimming team are going to try to send some squads home blue.
The Bulldogs (6-5, 4-4 EISL) conclude their season this weekend at the EISL Championships, which will be held Thursday through Saturday at Harvard. The Elis finished the regular season in a tie for fourth in the conference, and are aiming for third in the season-ending championship.
“We’ve been hoping all season to finish third after Harvard and Princeton,” Andrew Foss ’07 said. “We can’t really compete with them this year, but we think we’re third best, and we hope to show everyone that.”
The clear favorite is Harvard (8-0, 8-0). At the H-Y-P meet Jan. 31, the Crimson defeated Yale soundly and topped league runner-up Princeton (9-1, 6-1) by 97 points.
But how the middle of the league shakes down is anyone’s guess. Third-place Cornell (8-2, 6-2) defeated the Elis by only nine points during the regular season, while sixth-place Navy (3-5, 3-5) topped the Bulldogs by nearly 30.
If the Bulldogs hope to do well this weekend, they will need to get a lot of mileage out of their strong middle-distance corps, specifically the powerful tandem of Quinn Fitzgerald ’05 and Foss.
The pair took first and second place in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyles in a majority of the meets this winter. Fitzgerald and Foss are seeded second and fifth, respectively, at the 500-yard distance, while Foss holds the first seed in the 200 to Fitzgerald’s second seed.
And perhaps more important than the duo will be its surrounding cast, most notably John Atkinson ’05 and Kieran Locke ’06. All told, 11 Elis are swimming in the two events.
“The strength of our team has been depth in 200, 500,” Geof Zann ’07 said. “The intensity of training we do is conducive to fast swims in more grueling events, like the 200 and the 500. We’ll show that this weekend.”
Two other sophomores could have big meets: Zann and Mike Slater ’07.
Zann leads a small but potent Eli backstroke contingent. He is seeded sixth at the 100-yard distance and fourth in the 200, and should make some noise in the events, along with rookie Billy Rubenstein ’08 and Locke.
Zann will also play a critical role in the relays — he will most likely swim in the maximum of four relay finals.
After coming on strong in the second half of this season, Slater has the potential to rise above a wide-open field in the 200-yard breaststroke. Slater is seeded second, less than half of a second slower than Columbia’s Mike Nelson.
Slater defeated the Lion sophomore by more than two seconds in the Yale-Columbia regular-season bout.
The Elis will also need a big day on the diving board. The freshman trio of Doug Scott ’08, Jeff Lichtenstein ’08 and Pat Hayden ’08 has performed well throughout the season, but the divers have been erratic at times. In the high-pressure championship situation, the rookies may have trouble finding composure.
The events with the biggest potential for an Eli slip-up are the sprint events, which are particularly deep this year. The Bulldogs do not have a swimmer seeded in the top 10 in either the 50- or 100-yard freestyle. Locke was the highest-ranked Eli in both of those events, No. 19 in the 50 and No. 13 in the 100, but the Bulldogs’ top sprinter will be swimming elsewhere this weekend — both backstroke races and the 500-yard freestyle.
“I’m confident that I could go best times and be up there, but the hundredths matter,” Locke said. “I’ve been doing well in sprints, but my best is middle distance. I do what I’m needed to do.”
That leaves Tom Hardy ’06 as the top seed in the 50, at No. 20, and Foss the top-ranked Bulldog in the 100, at No. 15. Ben Dzialo ’07 holds the top Yale seed in the 100-yard butterfly — No. 17.
“We’re not worried,” Foss said. “They’re weaker events, but those guys can step up and get top 16, even top eight with good swims. They haven’t reached their peak yet, and they will be much better than they look on paper.”
All in all, the Bulldogs feel confident in their ability to prove that they are more than what they showed the rest of the conference this season.
“We’re ready — we’ve been talking about this for 361 days,” Zann said. “It’s time to get back in the water. We’re ready to go.”