Head coach Jim Henry has not been at the helm of the Yale men’s swimming and diving team for a full year, but has already helped the Bulldogs make history. This past weekend, Yale beat Princeton for the first time since 2005 by just one point, and secured a second-place finish in the Ivy League season heading into the conference championship.
Traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take on Harvard and Princeton, the Bulldogs delivered the performance of the season at HYP. Despite losing 242–111 to Harvard — the reigning conference champions who entered the season finale undefeated in the Ancient Eight — Yale snapped Princeton’s six-meet win streak with a narrow 177–176 victory.
“This win is program-changing for Yale,” Aaron Greenberg ’18 said. “For 16 years, we have never done better than third place in the dual meet standings. Beating Princeton this year shows that we are on the right track towards prominence again in the Ivy League.”
Harvard has triumphed over the Elis every year since 1992 and continued to showcase depth at this year’s HYP, winning 14 of the weekend’s 19 events and securing at least one top-three spot in all 19 events. With its dominance on full display, the Crimson swept first, second and third places in four events: the 200-yard freestyle, the 1,650-yard freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard backstroke.
However, Yale was able to defeat Princeton by keeping it off the top of the leaderboard. The Tigers won just one event — the 200-yard butterfly — in the entire meet, with the Bulldogs stealing several victories from Princeton swimmers. Yale’s Sam Pekarek ’21 went head to head with Princeton’s Corey Lau in the 100-yard breaststroke and defeated Lau by just 0.26 seconds.
“[Lau] and I are both from Minnesota, so growing up we have always had close races in breaststroke events, with him finishing slightly ahead of me every time,” Pekarek said. “A few of the guys hyped me up before the race, and this time I managed to come out on top. The race gave me confidence going into the rest of my events, and it felt incredible to be able to contribute towards a tremendous team win.”
The breaststroke was a strongpoint for Yale throughout the meet. In addition to Pekarek’s victory in the 100-yard event, Jonathan Rutter ’18 won the 200-yard breaststroke with Pekarek coming in third.
Yale also earned critical points in the relay events, finishing in third place in the 200-yard freestyle and medley relays and in second place in the 400-yard freestyle and medley relays. The 400-yard freestyle relay was the final event of the meet, and Yale’s A relay of Henry Gaissert ’20, Philippe Marcoux ’21, Adrian Lin ’19 and Greenberg concluded the meet with a good enough performance to put Yale one point above Princeton.
“On day two we were able to hit the ground running and shorten the gap between us and the Tigers,” Gaissert said. “Coach [Jim] Henry called upon every single member of the team to bring their best efforts to the table and we did exactly that, all the way up to our decisive victory in the last relay.”
However, the Elis struggled the most in the butterfly and backstroke events, failing to notch a single top-three finish in those categories. The Bulldogs conceded both backstroke events to Harvard’s sweeps and failed to break through to the top three in either butterfly event, though Ryan Huizing ’20 missed third place in the 100-yard butterfly by just 0.6 seconds.
In the diving events, Christian DeVol ’21 faced stiffer competition than in previous meets. On the first day of HYP, the rookie placed fifth in the three-meter dive, but he was the highest-placing first-year diver in the event. On Saturday, DeVol won the one-meter dive to record Yale’s first victory of the second day of the meet, energizing the Bulldogs for an exciting final and decisive day of competition.
“It took the whole team a couple of races to warm up,” Kei Hyogo ’18 said. “In general, the team started performing better on the second day of the meet when our victory against Princeton was more in sight. … To have been able to take a win against them for the first time since 2002 speaks of the progress this team has made since over a decade ago.”
The Elis are poised to enter the Ivy League Championships in two weeks with a 4–2 conference record, identical to those of Columbia and Princeton. Harvard once again poses the greatest challenge to Yale, as the Crimson touts an unblemished conference record.
But according to Greenberg, the Bulldogs have much to look forward to in the two weeks leading up to the Ivy Championships.
“[Taper] is the best part of the season,” Greenberg said. “All of the hardest work has been done over the last several months. We are all excited to scale back a little in the practice intensity and prepare for our taper meets: Ivies and NCAA’s. We are eager as a team to prove how good we are at the Ivy League Championships.”
The four-day Ivy League Championships will kick off in Princeton, New Jersey on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Selena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org