Leaving its fans with adrenaline and hoarse voices, the Yale men’s swimming and diving team won a dramatic dual meet with Columbia on Saturday that came down to the final two races.
In a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change five times, the Bulldogs swam to victory on the backs of dominating performances from two juniors, Kei Hyogo ’18 and Aaron Greenberg ’18. The Elis edged the Lions 152–148 in front of many team alumni who came out for the first home meet of the season.
“[I’m] really proud with the way we raced and competed today,” head coach Tim Wise said. “It is a testament to the work the guys have been putting in in the weight room and the pool. Columbia was as good as we expected them to be — we were very fortunate to come out on top. We had a bit of extra pool magic on our side today [from the alumni].”
Yale and Columbia both stepped onto the deck at the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool coming off solid wins the week prior. The Bulldogs won easily against Brown and UMass, while Columbia overpowered Army and Penn at West Point. With both squads 2–0 in dual meets on the season, Saturday’s showdown was the Elis’ first true test of 2016.
Columbia raced to an early lead thanks to its superior diving and relays. Jayden Pantel, last year’s Ivy League champion in both diving events, set the tone for the Lions by winning the 3-meter diving to commence competition. In the next event, the 200-yard medley relay, Columbia edged Yale by a 0.41-second margin, giving the team a 25–11 lead.
But the Elis immediately put the pressure back on their opponents after an astonishing race from Hyogo. The team’s highest scorer in both 2014–15 and 2015–16 asserted himself in the 1,000-yard freestyle with a time of 9:02.47. That swim, just four seconds off of his career-best time, ranks him fifth in the nation so far this year. The lead had been cut to just five points, and it was clear that the meet would go down to the wire.
“Every single swim counted and I think everyone on the team stepped up big time,” Hyogo said. “The guys didn’t succumb to the overwhelming pressure which bodes well for the remainder of the season when we’ll be facing equally competitive rivals.”
Columbia managed to stay ahead over the next three events, winning the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke and taking silver and bronze in the 100-yard breaststroke. However, the Bulldogs finally snatched the lead after an exceptional performance in the 200-yard butterfly. Joey Carbone ’19 seized gold for the Bulldogs with a time of 1:51.71 and his teammates Duncan Lee ’20 and Alex Schultz ’17 took second and fourth. Yale secured a 66–65 advantage by winning 15 of the 19 points up for grabs in the event.
At that point, Greenberg dropped the hammer on his opponents. Recently returned from an attempt to make the Israeli Olympic team, Greenberg eviscerated his opponents in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, winning by 0.52 and 1.56 seconds, respectively. His 19.84 time in the 50-yard freestyle, the eighth fastest time in the nation this year, still fell short of Greenberg’s 19.75 time in the same event last weekend.
“I have been extremely happy with the season thus far,” Greenberg said. “It is amazing to be back at Yale after a year away, and I am happy to have been able to start this year on a great note. The last three years — two at Yale and especially last year abroad in Israel — have helped me tremendously to get to this point.”
Still, Yale was not out of the woods. Columbia’s diving strength had kept the score close, and the Bulldogs led by just two points. Despite another great race from Hyogo, who won the 500-yard freestyle in 4:28.97, the Lions ran away with the 200-yard backstroke and 100-yard butterfly. With just two events left on the docket, the score was tied at 132. Wise gathered his swimmers in the corner of the pool deck and reiterated the stakes of the moment. There, the head coach altered his team’s strategy as the meet reached its climax.
“He got everyone excited for the [200-yard individual medley] and told us that if we scored at least 13 points on the 200 IM, we would change the relays to seal the meet,” Greenberg said. “By getting 13 points, we [would] only need a second and third place on the relay to win. [Coach] Wise decided to take the strategic approach -— the much safer option — by splitting our relays and relying on our great depth to win.”
In the 200-yard IM, Hyogo won his third event of the afternoon, Jonathan Rutter ’18 took second and Tristan Furnary ’20 nabbed fifth, giving the Elis 14 points. With Yale then up 146–137, Wise altered his two 400-yard freestyle relays, putting Greenberg on the B relay to ensure a two-three finish. That strategy paid off in spades, as the B relay took third by more than two seconds, sealing the 152–148 victory for the Bulldogs.
Now 3–0 on the season, Yale will travel south to Blacksburg, Virginia, for the three-day Virginia Tech Invitational. Competition will begin Thursday at 10 a.m. and will continue through Saturday evening.