The hallways surrounding the Kiphuth Memorial Exhibition Pool in Payne Whitney Gymnasium are lined with almost a century’s worth of small pictures of each year’s swimming team. While some things have changed since Yale swimming was born in 1898 — not least of which was the addition of a women’s team in 1973 — the Elis’ main competitors have not. Harvard and Princeton remain the Bulldogs’ toughest competition, just as they have since the early 1900s.

The Elis have dominated the league in the past, including 35 undefeated seasons and a nearly unimaginable 201 straight dual meet victories between 1940 and 1961. Yet both the men and women have struggled of late to break the Harvard-Princeton Ivy hegemony.

Continuing this storied rivalry, the 2005-06 edition of Yale’s swimming and diving teams travel to Cambridge this weekend to take on the Princeton Tigers and Harvard Cantabs in the annual H-Y-P meet. The contest is often hailed as one of the most exciting meets of the year, second only to the championship meets three weeks later.

But while the history among these three titans dates back to before the creation of the Ivy League itself, this weekend’s competition, which is only 15 years old, and all the hype surrounding it are a comparatively recent phenomenon. And even though this year’s Yale teams have little chance of outscoring either opponents, team members said the meet holds a special place in a Bulldog swimmer’s heart.

H-Y-P is not the only dual meet with three teams competing, but the difference is unmistakable. Caroline Dowd ’08 said the level of competition found at H-Y-P is not duplicated at any other meet, which leads to some of the fastest times of the season outside of championships. Still, Yale head coach Frank Keefe said that judging by the numbers, Yale will enter the meet as the underdogs, a reality that only seems to propel the Eli swimmers forward even more.

“I think right now Harvard and Princeton aren’t expecting that much from us, so we’d like to go in there and show them that we’re not going to back down,” Alex Goldsmith ’08 said. “Not just to show them, but also the rest of the league.”

The energetic feeling is not confined to the pool. The event, whose location rotates among the three schools, draws large numbers of Yale swimming alumni. So hyped is the competition, Goldsmith said, that some teams will make T-shirts just for the meet.

“It was a spectacle, but a nice spectacle,” he said of last year’s H-Y-P, held in New Haven. “It was good to see the home crowd there — it was packed.”

The event’s location on the season schedule adds even more weight to the meet. Just three weeks before championships, H-Y-P serves as a showcase for some of the league’s best swimmers. Goldsmith said Harvard and Princeton tend to taper, or rest, and shave before H-Y-P, preparations teams normally use only for the most important of matchups.

“H-Y-P has become a mini-conference meet,” Keefe said. “It’s a preview of coming attractions.”

Statistics lend credence to Keefe’s words. In six out of the past seven years, the women’s team that won H-Y-P went on to beat all comers at the Ivy championships. For the men it was five out of the past seven EISLs.

Though Harvard and Princeton currently lead the league standings for both sexes, the victor this weekend may not win the league, especially on the men’s side. The Princeton men are 4-0 in league meets, and Harvard is a close second at 4-1. But Columbia is also 4-1, and Cornell is close behind at 5-2. Keefe said Columbia and Cornell’s success could make for an interesting championship meet.

The Cantabs and Tigers seem to have the women’s side more locked up, with both teams undefeated within the league, at 5-0 and 3-0, respectively. Harvard, a “powerhouse” in Keefe’s estimation, will likely win the women’s meet at H-Y-P, though the men’s race is still there for the taking — by Harvard or Princeton.

Keefe said that while the Bulldogs boast some very strong swimmers, Harvard and Princeton have greater depth and some swimmers who are capable of outclassing Yale’s best. He cited diver Jeffrey Lichtenstein ’08, as well as Andrew Foss ’07 in the freestyle, as examples of Yale’s strong men swimmers and divers. The women will be led by Moira McCloskey ’07, who has shined yet again this year in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke, and also the 200-yard medley relay team, which recently has also included Marilee Kiernan ’09, Meg Gill ’07 and Alexis Mann ’09.

H-Y-P is the highlight of most Eli swimmers’ careers, Keefe said. Though winning at the championships could be more important, only about 20 members of each team participate in championships, with fewer opportunities than at H-Y-P for younger or weaker swimmers to race.

The event’s hype is self-fulfilling, with each new crop of freshmen learning how exciting the meet is well before they experience it first-hand. But Keefe said he is trying to change this perception.

“It’s just another dual meet,” he said. “There’s a little bit too much hype. The kids enjoy it, but sometimes their focus is in error. On the men’s side, it’s as important as Cornell and Columbia.”

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