Deniz Saip

A trying week of competition left the Yale women’s swimming and diving team short of a title defense as Harvard raced to first place in the Ivy League Championships and left the Bulldogs trailing in second.

Posting a score of 1616, Harvard led the Ivy League after four days of competition. The Elis followed their dominant 1681-point performance last year, with a total of 1490.5. Trailing behind on the scoreboard, Princeton took third place with 1301 points. While the Bulldogs set a number of records at the meet, a lack of depth compared to their rivals left them unable to pull off a title repeat despite entering the championships as the regular season champion.

“Overall it was a really successful meet and season in general,” Cailley Silbert ’18 said. “We had a lot of really fast swims and amazing dives this weekend, and that is something we all can be really proud of. More importantly, throughout the entire weekend we continued to come together as a team and support each other, even as Harvard began to pull ahead.”

At the end of the first day, Yale stood neck and neck with Harvard at 118 points. The Elis flew out of the gates to set a meet and pool record in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:37.30. In doing so, Heidi Vanderwel ’18, Cha O’Leary ’20, Maddie Zimmerman ’18 and Bella Hindley ’19 surpassed the mark they set last year. Yale showed some cracks in the 800-yard freestyle relay and finished four seconds behind second-place Princeton but otherwise ended the first day on a positive note.

On the following day, Yale captured third through fifth in the A-final of the 500-yard freestyle while Destiny Nelson ’19 — the Bulldog’s lone representative in the A-final of the 200-yard individual medley — slipped to fourth in a competitive field. Harvard and Princeton claimed six out of the top eight spots in the event.

A similar tale played out in the 50-yard freestyle. Hindley blasted to first place and set a pool record of 22.40, but she was alone in the A-final while Harvard had three swimmers. Zimmerman’s time would have been fifth in the A-final, but her qualifying time placed her in the B-final, a designation that left Yale with fewer points than it perhaps deserved.

After a poor showing at HYP, the Elis dominated in diving. In the 1-meter event, Nikki Watters ’21 soared to first place at her first Ivy League Championships. Hannah Walsh ’19 joined her on the podium in third place.

“After HYP I knew I had a lot of work to do,” Watters said. “It wasn’t the meet I had hoped for, but I knew that Ivies would be a fresh start. I had to clear my mind and focus on the competition coming up.”

Back between the lanes, the Bulldogs finished day two with a tight second-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle relay, a mere 0.2 second behind the Crimson.

On the third day, Bebe Thompson ’20 and Nelson finished third and fourth in the 400-yard IM while Zimmerman and Vanderwel sandwiched Princeton’s Isabel Reis as they grabbed second and fourth in the 100-yard butterfly. Improving on her HYP performance, Claire O’Mara ’21 ascended to fifth in the 200-yard freestyle. Yet her effort did not help Yale close the gap with Harvard, as the Crimson snatched first, second and fourth in the event.

O’Leary owned the 100-yard breaststroke and led the pack by nearly two seconds. Again for Yale, while individuals shone, the team struggled to put together a collective performance in each event. The next highest Yale finisher was captain Paulina Kaminski ’18 in 13th place.

One of the top performances of the meet belonged to Vanderwel, who set a meet and pool record in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 52.45. Hindley followed close behind to finish third, and the two Yalies embraced in the water after the race. To close out the day, Yale put together another scintillating performance in the 400-yard medley relay to set more meet and pool records. The team’s relay time of 3:34.22 bested the record it established at the championships last year.

Entering the final day, the Elis found themselves 63 points adrift of Harvard. The Bulldogs began their final push for first with a snappy one-two-five finish in the 1,650-yard freestyle. In the process, Silbert became just the 10th four-time Ivy League champion and the first in that event. Yale kept the pressure on in the 200-yard backstroke where the Elis went three-five-eight with Harvard having only one swimmer in the A-final.

In the 100-yard freestyle, Hindley and Harvard’s Miki Dahlke went head to head, but when the waves subsided, the Crimson swimmer emerged in first, with her time of 48.64 trying Hindley’s meet record from a year ago. As the meet came to a close, O’Leary and Kaminski claimed first and seventh in the 200-yard breaststroke, while Zimmerman and Thompson took third and fifth in the 200-yard butterfly.

Watters again swooped into first place in the 3-meter diving event and her teammate McKenna Tennant ’18 joined her in second with a sterling performance.

“Despite not winning, I think the team has learnt a lot and it has given us a lot to work on,” Hindley said. “I definitely still view this season as a success, one meet should not define an entire season. We have seen great progress in so many aspects this season and this loss just gives us fire for next year.”

The title gave Harvard’s its 13th Ivy League Championship.

Caleb Rhodes | caleb.rhodes@yale.edu