Hundreds of miles from home and in the territory of one of the best squads in the country, the Yale men’s swimming and diving team held its own against a bevy of formidable opponents two weekends ago.
The Bulldogs traveled south to Christiansburg, Virginia, for the three-day H2Okie Fall Invitational at No. 21 Virginia Tech, where they finished fourth out of a field of eight teams. Though the Hokies ran away with the meet victory with 1,287 points, Yale swam well against the other six schools. Bolstered by strong performances by veterans Jonathan Rutter ’18 and Aaron Greenberg ’18, the Elis amassed 466.5 points to edge out William and Mary in the top half of the meet standings.
“[The Virginia Tech meet] was all good,” head coach Tim Wise said. “We swam many season best times and had a wonderful experience swimming [against] teams we don’t see very often. The trials-finals format gave our guys a lot of swims and dives, and that experience will help them as we move forward.”
The meet was filled with gifted athletes from around the country. The host Hokies boast Ian Ho, one of the most adept sprinters in the country, and one of the nation’s best middle-distance specialists in Norbert Szabo. Also in attendance was Navy, which returned four of its six trialists from the 2016 Olympic qualifying meet.
The opening final, the 1-meter diving, set the tone for the rest of the meet. Virginia Tech divers finished first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, grabbing 78 points to the Bulldogs’ 10.5. The rest of the Thursday evening session continued in similar fashion, with the Hokies winning the 200-yard freestyle relay, the 500-yard freestyle, the 200-yard individual medley — in which Virginia Tech swimmers took each of the top four spots — and the 400-yard medley relay.
Despite the orange and maroon onslaught leading the pack, the Elis quietly earned enough points to stay competitive with their other opponents. Greenberg, battling pneumonia, captured the 50-yard freestyle crown by just 0.03 seconds over Ho in 20.04, a mark noticeably slower than his season-best time of 19.75. Ben Lerude ’17 took seventh in the 500-free in 4:34.26 and Rutter nabbed sixth in the 200-IM in 1:49.44.
“I find both [fast times and race experience] to be important,” Greenberg said. “Part of the reason we traveled to Virginia Tech was to get the experience of racing some of the best swimmers in the country. Racing Ian Ho in the 50 free was exciting and gave me the opportunity to battle in a close race. It is also important to be [swimming] fast times, but because the training cycle varies throughout the season, there will be some variation in times throughout a regular season.”
The Elis returned to the Christiansburg Aquatic Center the next day and quickly set about recording impressive swims. Rutter continued his meet — for which he was named CollegeSwimming.com Ivy League Swimmer of the Week — with a third-place finish in the 400-yard IM. Adrian Lin ’19 followed suit, claiming fourth in the 200-yard freestyle with a 1:39.99. Yale concluded Friday competition with an impressive 800-yard freestyle relay performance, securing 34 points with a second-place time of 6:40.79.
Yale looked unlikely to catch Purdue or Navy, let alone Virginia Tech, on the final day of racing, but still battled hard to subdue a feisty William and Mary contingent. Lerude earned another 17 points for his team in the 1,650-yard freestyle by finishing second to widen the gap over the Tribe with a five-second besting of William and Mary’s Chris Balbo.
After Greenberg’s illness forced him to scratch the 100-yard freestyle final, Henry Gaissert ’20 mollified the situation with a 45.26 time, good for third place and 16 points. Rutter concluded his astounding individual performance with a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke, and the Elis solidified their fourth-place overall finish with a bronze medal in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“Overall, last weekend was a great performance,” captain Alex Goss ’17 said. “Looking at how we compare to years past, there is a lot to be excited about. We’ve been keeping an eye on how teams across the league are doing, and we feel like we can really do something special this season.”
The Bulldogs enjoyed a weekend of rest after Thanksgiving but will return to the water on Dec. 3 when they travel to Storrs for a tri-meet with the University of Connecticut and Boston University.