Courtesy of Yale Athletics
An impressive dual meet season, in which the Yale men’s swimming and diving team conquered every Ivy League opponent except for Harvard, had the Bulldogs dreaming of a second-place finish at the Ivy League championships. However, Penn and Columbia’s depth proved too much to handle, and Yale’s dreams were crushed as the team earned its sixth fourth-place finish in the past seven seasons.
The Bulldogs felled the Lions in November by a 152–148 margin and the Quakers 156–144 in January, but the prelims-finals format of last week’s championship meet played to the advantage of Yale’s opponents, as Penn, Columbia and Yale finished with scores of 1,335, 1,208 and 1,115.5, respectively. The Crimson, the overwhelming favorite to take the meet title, eviscerated the rest of the Ancient Eight behind freshman phenom Dean Farris, who raised eyebrows nationwide with a series of blisteringly fast swims.
“I think everyone swam their hearts out,” swimmer Kei Hyogo ’18 said. “There were a couple of exceptional swims and even besides that, each swim added to the positive energy that we were able to maintain from the start to the end. In the end, I couldn’t be any prouder of how our team fared against the other teams, and I think our positivity and talent will translate well into the next season.”
With parity rising throughout the league and powerhouse Princeton not in competition this year due to self-suspension, Yale had a shot at taking second place overall. However, the Elis were challenged early and often at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. During Wednesday night’s opening session, Yale began with a tepid sixth-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay, only finishing ahead of a Dartmouth team that would end the meet in last by more than 200 points.
Though Yale took silver in the subsequent 800-yard freestyle relay — the team’s time of 6:24.24 shattered the previous team record of 6:26.01 — Yale finished tied for third with Columbia and Cornell, and trailing Harvard and Penn, at the end of the night.
Thursday was the first full day of competition, and the Bulldogs remained squarely within the pack. Hyogo, one of the best distance swimmers in the country, shockingly missed the A-final in the 500-yard freestyle, forcing him to swim in a consolation heat and precluding a top-eight finish. His ninth-place time of 4:16.71 would have won A-final by more than two seconds.
A lack of depth plagued the Bulldogs throughout the meet, especially in Thursday’s nonfreestyle events. The 200-yard individual medley captured this handicap, as Penn placed seven swimmers in the top 24 to Yale’s three. Nonetheless, the second day of competition provided a Yale highlight, as Aaron Greenberg ’18 powered his way to victory in the 50-yard freestyle. Greenberg’s dominant closing yards put away Harvard’s Steven Tan to give Yale its first individual gold medal of the competition.
“It was tough competition [in the 50], but it’s what I’ve been focusing really hard on since I got to college,” Greenberg said. “I attribute it to all of the hard work from the season and the sprint-specific training that I got with [assistant coach] Kevin [Norman], and the weight training that I got from [Director of Strength and Conditioning] Mike Harris. … The power that I had in the last 25 [meters]got me the win.”
In fourth place after the first two days of racing, Yale fought to remain in the hunt on Friday. Hyogo returned to the podium with a gold medal in the 1000-yard freestyle, winning in a meet-record 8:49.45, yet the nonfreestyle events remained challenging. Tristan Furnary ’20 took eighth place in the 400-yard IM, but two swimmers from Columbia and three from Penn finished ahead of him, widening the score. In the 100-yard breaststroke, Yale only had one swimmer, Derek Kao ’18, in the finals to Penn’s four and Columbia’s three.
Meanwhile, Harvard continued to expand its lead over all opponents. Farris, the Crimson’s newest star, exploded on Friday night with an otherworldly 200-yard freestyle swim. His time of 1:31.56 not only won the event by more than two seconds and demolished a pool record set by three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, but also set the top time in the country and would have earned him third at last year’s NCAA Championships. Behind Farris’s dominant swimming and unparalleled depth, Harvard held a lead of over 200 points with a day of competition still to come.
Saturday included some impressive performances from the Bulldogs, but the team failed to improve their standing. Hyogo broke the pool record in the 1650-yard freestyle with a 14:47.01 to win the event, and Greenberg finished in third in the 100-yard freestyle with a solid 43.75. Anthony Mercadante ’17 gave Yale its most impressive diving performance of the meet, taking eighth. Regardless, Penn and Columbia proved simply too much for the Elis, as Yale ended its Ivy League season in fourth place.
“Finishing fourth doesn’t feel good,” swimmer Adrian Lin ’19 said. “We lost to teams that we beat during the dual-meet season. We know we can beat Penn and Columbia at Ivies, we just didn’t execute. That being said, this season was one of our most productive yet, and that’s what we will carry into next year. Our performance at Ivies, although important, doesn’t define our season.”
For most swimmers, the end of the Ivy League championships spells the end of the 2016–17 campaign. Only a few will travel to Indianapolis in March for NCAA Championships. Though the swimmers invited to compete in each event have not been announced, Hyogo and Greenberg seem to be locks for the 1650-yard freestyle and 50-yard freestyle, respectively, as they are both ranked in the top 20 nationwide in those events.
The NCAA Championships will begin on March 22.