Just five days after winning an Ivy League dual meet on the final race, the Yale men’s swimming and diving team travels to Christiansburg, Virginia, for the H2Okie Fall Invitational.
Last Saturday, the Elis barely escaped Columbia in their home opener, leaving the deck of the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool with a narrow 152–148 victory in hand. Now the Bulldogs must prepare for a radically different meet format; instead of a single-day dual meet, they will race in a three-day, prelims-finals meet featuring seven other squads: Navy, Old Dominion, Purdue, University of Connecticut, Villanova, William & Mary and host Virginia Tech.
“Our meet this weekend is a very similar format to the Ivy League championship, so we will try and treat this as a rehearsal for February,” captain Alex Goss ’17 said. “We’ll be competing for three days and six sessions in total, which means the ability to stay consistent and remain focused will be even more important than in a dual meet.”
Though the team still has roughly three months until the most important meet of its season — the four-day Ivy League championship — this weekend’s expedition represents the only exposure to that scale of competition during the season. No other meet on the docket features more than two other teams or more than two days of racing, making this a critical test on Yale’s march toward an Ancient Eight title.
The Elis will need to win medals in several events in order to earn enough points to have a realistic shot at the meet title. Yale will look to its two best swimmers to lead them to the top spot this weekend. Distance specialist Kei Hyogo ’18, who won three events against Columbia, was named Ivy League Swimmer of the Week by CollegeSwimming.com after his 1,000-yard freestyle time of 9:02.47 moved him into fifth in the nation in that event this year. Yale’s top sprinter, Aaron Greenberg ’18, is a constant gold-medal threat in the short swims, ranked fourth in the nation in the 50-yard freestyle behind only Olympians Ali Khalafalla, Ryan Held and Caeleb Dressel. Greenberg, who has returned to Yale after a year training abroad, made an immediate impact on the squad, which he ascribes to the team’s effort in the weight room.
“I attribute a large part of my= improvement on my growing [lifting ability] which I can thank [strength and conditioning coach] Mike Harris for,” Greenberg said. “He is an outstanding weight coach and has helped me put on 25 pounds of muscle since I got to college, of which has helped tremendously in both my strength and explosiveness in the water.”
Though Hyogo and Greenberg have achieved notoriety as they move up the national leaderboard, the Bulldogs are deep with talented swimmers that will attempt to bolster the squad at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Ben Lerude ’17 was second to Hyogo in both distance events last weekend, recording an impressive 4:31.07 in the 500-yard freestyle, just three seconds off of his career best. Moreover, Jonathan Rutter ’18 earned medals of all three colors against Columbia, including gold in the 200-yard breaststroke, an event in which he is the team record holder. Freshman diver Chris Labella ’20 has quickly made his mark on his new team, taking second in both one- and three-meter diving events last week. With several medal-threats on the roster, Yale will have a decent chance at a top-three finish at the H2Okie Fall Invitational.
However, the teams that stand in the Bulldogs’ way will not be so easily dispatched. Virginia Tech is undefeated on the year and stands at No. 12 in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll. Navy is also undefeated; though it escaped University of Maryland, Baltimore County by just five points, the team has won its other five meets by no fewer than 86. The Midshipmen seniors will receive their military appointments on the first day of competition, which will undoubtedly give that team extra motivation.
With such impressive competition and so little time to recover after last weekend’s meet, one might think that Yale would be at a disadvantage. However, that sentiment has not permeated the Eli locker room.
“It’s not hard to go from one meet to another because the best part about swimming is racing,” Derek Kao ’18 said. “Having meets is fun, and it brings the team closer together. It’s also beneficial to have so many opportunities to compete. The more we race, the more we learn and improve.”
This is the first time in team history that the Bulldogs will make the journey to Christiansburg. Yale has only encountered the Hokies on one other occasion, when Virginia Tech won the 2007 Nike Cup at the University of North Carolina; the Bulldogs finished fifth of seven teams.