Lisa Qian

The Yale women’s swimming and diving team is looking to capitalize on its successful 2015–16 season with the addition of top-notch newcomers to a squad already led by returning Ivy League champions in both swimming and diving events.

Last year, the Bulldogs snagged an impressive runner-up title at the Ivy League Conference meet in February where nineteen Eli athletes raced. Out of these nineteen women, fourteen are returning to swim for the Bulldogs in the 2016–17 season. Yale will begin its competitive season in Providence against Brown and University of Massachusetts on Saturday.

“Our whole team has had an amazing preseason,” diver McKenna Tennant ’18 said. “Our team has gotten better each year. I’m really excited for this weekend and this season, to show up and be a force to be reckoned with and show the other teams how much we’ve improved.”

This year, the Bulldogs will focus on big invitationals before Thanksgiving break — at Ohio State University for the swimmers and at Virginia Tech for the divers. Beginning in 2017, the Elis are set to compete in a slew of dual and tri-meets, including the Yale-UPenn-Dartmouth meet and the historic Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, both at home, before gearing up for the championship portion of the season later in the winter.

Top returners from last year include diver Lilybet MacRae ’17, who won two Ivy League silver medals last winter, and 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle Ivy League champion Isabella Hindley ’19.

“I was happy with my season [last year], but I know there are so many things I can improve on,” Hindley said. “I’ve been working on technical aspects and my strokes. Right now it’s about getting back into hard training and working on the team aspect. Racing with so much support from the team helped me last year and made relays successful.”

A group of extremely talented athletes are new to the team this year, with eight freshmen and one transfer sophomore.

Destiny Nelson ’19, who is starting her Yale swimming career after a freshman season at the University of Southern California, showed nothing but experience when she won both the 200-yard freestyle and the 200-yard backstroke in Yale’s scrimmage against The United States Military Academy at West Point in October. Nelson has already been named the Ivy League Swimmer of the week by CollegeSwimming.com and will undoubtedly continue to help the Bulldogs throughout their season.

“The freshmen are walking into a really strong team,” head coach Jim Henry said. “Last year was a historical, extraordinary year. The freshmen have really found a way to blend in and raise the level of training and racing and [are] able to make everyone better. There’s a good energy level brought into the practice, and they’re enjoying the process.”

Challenges for the team will include racing against rival Harvard, last year’s Ivy League champions. The Crimson returns some of its top athletes as well. Diving champion Hannah Allchurch and swimmer Meagan Popp, who currently holds three school records at Harvard, will both be competing this season.

Before its official competitive season began, Yale held an intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 7 and then traveled to the United States Military Academy at West Point two weeks later for a matchup against the Army Mules.

“We really raced well at the intrasquad meet,” Henry said. “It was a completely energetic, high intensity close meet … [The meet at] West point was a great bonding experience, just going on the road, bonding on the bus and eating meals together. It was a great chance for us to get to know each other, and the racing was fabulous…It’s great [for the women] to swim different events instead of being too focused on their specialties.”

The Bulldogs will face off against fellow conference opponent Brown and the University of Massachusetts on Saturday. Brown, like Yale, is opening its season this weekend after only having competed in an exhibition against Connecticut. However, UMass has more experience racing this fall, as the team has already swum in the Colgate Invitational and against both Army and Boston University in two separate dual meets. The Minutemen were off to a strong start in early October, finishing second of seven teams at the Colgate Invitational, but have not been able to pull together a win since then.

Swimmers like Ansley Baker, who won the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke for UMass in the Colgate Invitational, and Brown’s Ally Donahue, the 2016 Ivy League 200 breaststroke champion, are likely to present the Elis with stark competition this weekend.

“It’s nice to race an Ivy League team and just see where we are,” Hindley said. “To get some of that rust off from constantly training and get into racing mode is exciting.”