The Yale men’s swimming and diving team returns to the water on Thursday for the Ivy League Championships at Brown after nearly four weeks off from competition.
Coming off a third-place finish at last year’s championship meet, the Bulldogs replaced a six-man senior class with 10 swimmers from the class of 2019. That depth manifested itself in the team’s consistently impressive showings throughout the season, especially in relay and distance events.
“I would say compared to a lot of other [Division I] conferences out there, every school in the Ivy League puts a lot of emphasis on the conference meet,” swimmer Kei Hyogo ’18 said. “A lot of schools outside the Ivy League focus primarily on the NCAA championships whereas everyone in the Ivy League fully shaves and tapers for Ivies. I think that brings a lot more excitement to the meet and also makes it more rewarding to place high as a team.”
Yale went 4–3 in the Ivy League this year, defeating Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth but falling to Harvard, Penn and reigning conference champion Princeton.
The three-day meet marks the first time this season all eight teams compete against one another. Though the event’s length makes it challenging, captain Brian Hogan ’16 pointed out that the meet’s format is not unfamiliar to the Bulldogs. Earlier this season, they had a “dry run” at the seven-team Nike Cup meet held at the University of North Carolina, where the team placed fifth.
“Being able to keep your speed up all three days is something of a challenge,” swimmer Jonathan Rutter ’18 said. “I think that depending on the person, the atmosphere can be a challenge. A lot of us thrive in it, but at the same time it is pretty nerve-wracking.”
Luckily for the Elis, the meet opens with one of Yale’s strongest events: the 500-yard freestyle. Seven Bulldogs qualified to swim, and every swimmer is fast enough to make the top heat, according to Rutter.
Hogan, one of the seven swimmers, said he is excited to be part of the group that may set the tone for the rest of the meet.
“The distance events have been strong for us for a few years, and we came into this year knowing we had to carry on that tradition,” Hogan said. “We had guys swim those events at NCAAs last year, and the experience has helped us immensely.”
Hogan and Hyogo were two of the three Yale swimmers to advance to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships last season. Both competed in distance events, a category that Hyogo noted has been “the Ivy League’s strongest area for the past couple of years.”
The championship meet is different from a dual meet in that only 11 percent of the total points go to first-place finishers, as opposed to 51 percent of points in a dual meet. Since the top 24 performers earn points for their respective teams, the meet places a higher premium on team depth rather than individual speed.
“The Ivy League is sort of predictable in how it’s going to turn out. On paper, Harvard and Princeton are going to be the top two,” Rutter said. “Yale and Penn, maybe Columbia, will be the next three … We’re not just here to selectively pick one team to beat. We’re going into every race, not with the mindset of scoring points to beat the team in front of us, but to swim the best we can.”
Swimmer Derek Kao ’18 said the goal is to finish third, and added that the team is excited “to get revenge and beat” Penn, who defeated Yale in a dual meet earlier this year.
In addition to the 500-yard freestyle and the mile, Yale swimmers are expected to compete for top finishes in events such as the 400-yard individual medley, short-distance freestyle events and the diving events.
In addition to Hogan and Hyogo, Ben Lerude ’17 is a threat in the mid- and long-distance swims. Yale’s freestyle sprinters — Brian Clark ’16, Oscar Miao ’17 and Victor Zhang ’16 — have the experience and the times necessary to place, based on performances earlier in the season, and newcomers Scott Bole ’19 and Joey Carbone ’19, former high school teammates, have done well in the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard butterfly races, respectively.
James McNelis ’16, Anthony Mercadante ’17 and Wayne Zhang ’18 will take to the boards in the diving events for the Elis. In the HYP meet against the Crimson and Tigers, Zhang and McNelis placed third and fifth, respectively, out of 15 competitors.
Unless any Yale seniors qualify for the NCAA Division I Championships in late March, which is based on certain time standards, many members of the senior class will conclude their careers on Saturday.
“I think the seniors have done a good job this year of being role models for the freshmen and being leaders both in and out of the pool,” Hyogo said. “I think every one of the seniors have a passion for the sport and it’s hard to see them retire after this meet, but hopefully they will all go out with a bang.”
The men’s Ivy League Championship has been won by either Harvard or Princeton every year since 1994. Yale’s last share of the title came after the 1992–93 season, when it split the championship with Harvard.