Yale Athletics

Just one week after taking fifth place at the Ohio State Invitationals, the Yale women’s swimming and diving team traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, to compete in the USA Winter Nationals for the first time in recent years.

A testament to the team’s growing national recognition, eight Bulldogs had the unique opportunity to compete against some of the best athletes in the nation. From Wednesday to Saturday, the Elis swam fiercely in freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke events. But the highlight of the event was Destiny Nelson’s ’20 Olympic trials qualifying time in the 200-meter individual medley.

“It was great to race long course on a huge stage. There were athletes competing who won Gold in Rio in 2016, as well as professional athletes like Yale alumni Aaron Greenberg [’18],” Bebe Thompson ’20 said. “The energy from Yale on deck was phenomenal — many club coaches and professional coaches commented on how fun and supportive our team was.”

Competition kicked off on Wednesday night with the 800-meter freestyle, as Kendall Brent ’20 and Nathalie Eid ’21 represented the Bulldogs. Known for her consistency in distance freestyle events, Brent finished with a time of 8:50.81 to place just outside the top 10 amidst stiff competition, including Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who finished first. Eid placed 33rd after touching in 9:12.10.

On Thursday, Raime Jones ’22 competed in the 400-meter freestyle where she took 37th place in the biggest event of her collegiate career thus far.

Yet the climax of the day’s events was Nelson’s performance in the 200-meter individual medley. Her 17th-place finish made the cutoffs for the U.S. Olympic trials, joining Henry Gaissert ’20 as one of two current Bulldogs at the meet to achieve this feat.

“Heading into this meet, I wasn’t quite sure where I was at in my training going into my first event, so I was over the moon when I looked at the clock and saw that I had gotten the cut,” Nelson said. “It was also incredibly special to celebrate with my teammates on deck and with my family that was in the stands.”

Five Bulldogs competed at the 2018 U.S. Winter Nationals on Friday, with Thompson swimming the 400-meter individual medley in the first event of the day. Thompson placed 34th in the prelims, touching in at 5 minutes and 8.64 seconds.

The sole Yale senior swimming at Nationals, Nelson was also scheduled to compete in the 400-meter individual medley on Friday, yet only competed in the 100-meter backstroke. After placing 20th with a time of 1:03.37 in the preliminaries, Nelson improved on her time in the finals to take 19th overall.

“It was a very exciting atmosphere and a great experience to be able to race some of the nation’s best and to gain additional racing experience outside of the Ivy League,” Nelson said. “The meet served as a great indicator of where we are all at in the season and enables us to fine tune and make changes that will help us going into our championship season.”

Jones swam in two events on Friday: the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly. After placing 32nd in the 200-meter freestyle with a time of 2:06.09, Jones took 36th in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 1:02.98. Lili Margitai ’20 joined Jones in the 100-meter butterfly, finishing 43rd just behind her teammate with a time of 1:03.34. Competition was fierce in the event, with just four seconds separating Margitai from the second-place finisher in the event.

In the final event of the day for the women, MaryKate Buckley ’22 finished 16th in the finals of the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:11.68, a personal best, just three-tenths of a second longer than her time in the prelims that morning.

Thompson, Brent, Eid, and Cate Sawkins ’21, a staff reporter for the News, rounded out competition on Saturday with strong performances.

Sawkins placed fifth in the 200-meter backstroke, while Jones posted another strong finish in her final freestyle event of the competition, earning 36th in the 100-meter freestyle.

Meanwhile in the 200-meter butterfly, Jones and Thompson finished 35th and 36th, respectively, separated by less than half a second.

“It was an incredible experience to compete against some of the best swimmers in the country and the world,” Sawkins said. “As a group we learned some valuable lessons about how to approach the second half of our season and were excited to get back to work.”

With Winter Nationals completed, the Bulldogs have one more matchup against Southern Connecticut State before enjoying some well-deserved rest over the holidays. The team will return to the pool Jan. 4–5, before classes start, to take on Ancient Eight rivals Penn and Dartmouth in Philadelphia. Following this matchup is a packed winter season leading up to the Ivy League Championships beginning on Feb. 20, where the Elis hope to reclaim the conference title after falling to Harvard last spring.

Yale takes on Southern Connecticut State University on Dec. 6 at 4 p.m.

Alex Reedy | alex.reedy@yale.edu