Ken Yanagisawa

The Yale women’s swimming and diving team, undefeated in the Ivy League, looks to cap off the 2015–16 regular season with its seventh-ever Ivy League Championship win.

After coming up short in the conference’s annual title meet in every season since 1997, the Bulldogs are favored to win the trophy for the first time since that championship season. Yale most recently earned an important victory at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet two weeks ago and plans to carry that momentum forward at the Ivy championships, which take place from Thursday to Saturday in Princeton, New Jersey.

“We were very pleased with our performance at the HYP meet, but we can’t take anything for granted,” captain Emma Smith ’16 said. “We will be using this season’s past successes — at dual meets, at the Nike Invite and at HYP — to fuel our performances this weekend, but we need to focus on stepping up to this new, and exciting, challenge, a chance to make history.”

Yale currently leads the Ivy League, followed by Princeton — whose only loss was to the Elis — and Harvard, which fell to both at this year’s HYP meet. The Tigers and the Crimson will present the biggest challenges for Yale to overcome, but the Bulldogs are expected to defeat even those top foes after their performances this season: Yale’s individual swimmers hold a total of 18 top-three times in the conference across 14 events, while Harvard and Princeton combine for just 17.

Still, one potential dark horse may threaten Yale’s ability to put up points when facing all seven Ivy schools. Penn lost to the triad, including a 195–105 defeat against Yale, but the Quakers have nonetheless remained competitive with multiple top times in individual events despite not placing well as a team.

Penn’s freestyle swimmers, specifically, may pose a threat to the Elis. Penn junior Rochelle Dong holds the season-best time across the Ivy League in the 50-yard event, just 0.08 seconds faster than Yale’s Bella Hindley ’19, who has the second-best time in the conference in that swim and the top Ivy time in the 100-yard free. Penn sophomore Virginia Burns is also second on the conference podium in the 200-yard free, whose first- and third-best times have come from Hindley and Yale swimmer Kina Zhou ’17. Earning points over Penn in the freestyle events will be key for the Bulldogs to maintain their claim as top team in the Ivy League.

“I think we’re just going to do what we normally do, and not let the other competitors freak us out,” Hindley said. “Racing Penn in January was fun, we knew we were up against some fast freestylers so we knew it was going to be tough, but we just tried to block that out and swim our own races.”

The distance swims are also shaping up for an exciting weekend of competition. Yale’s duo of Eva Fabian ’16 and Cailley Silbert ’18 have dominated in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard events in every meet this season except when they were out-touched by a Penn State swimmer in January. The two are closely followed in their season-best times in the 500-yard swim by Penn’s Burns and Madison Visco.

“We are looking to carry the focus and excitement from HYP to Ivies this weekend,” Fabian said. “Our hard work and incredible team attitude have been our biggest strengths this season, and we will focus on representing Yale with pride at Ivies.”

Other than Harvard, Princeton and Penn, the other four Ivy League teams hold losing records and are not expected to pose any problems for the Elis. The four teams hold six top-five times across all individual swims: Brown holds four, Cornell and Columbia each hold one and Dartmouth has failed to produce a single projected point-earning time.

Diving should provide for an exciting showing, with Yale’s Lilybet MacRae ’17 going into the Ivy League championship undefeated in conference competition. MacRae came in second place in both the three- and one-meter events at Ivies last year to Princeton’s Caitlin Chambers, but Chambers has dived just once this season and missed all Ivy dual meets due to injury.

“Since the meet is going to be close, there is a lot of pressure to do well individually,” MacRae said. “But I know if we just do our best and swim and dive like we have all season we will have no problem doing well.”

The gun fires for the first event of the 2016 Ivy League Championships at 11 a.m. on Thursday.