June 9, 2009

Righi Closes Memorable Collegiate Career with Yale Graduation

Earned Three All-American Awards at 2009 Championships

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - As Swimming World magazine's 2005 National High School Swimmer of the Year, Alex Righi (Phoenix, Ariz./ Brophy College Prep) had his choice of many different schools for continuing his swimming career at the collegiate level. But Righi was looking well beyond the pool when he made the decision to become a Yale Bulldog. Now, four years later -- with his Yale degree and a slew of honors in hand -- Righi looks back on that decision as the perfect choice.

"The way I think about it is you graduate from Yale and have a Yale degree," Righi said. "In 20 years, no one will care about my swimming accomplishments. It is my Yale degree that will always define me. It is something that I will always have and that cannot change. I have never had any doubt that I made the right decision to come to Yale."

Righi's four years as one of the most celebrated swimmers in the Bulldog history came to a close on May 25 with Yale University Commencement. He received the William Neely Mallory Award as the top senior male student-athlete at Class Day on Sunday, May 24th and then received his B.A. in political science on Monday, May 25th.

For Righi it was the culmination of four memorable years that resulted from his decision back in high school that he wanted to be a Bulldog. Yale offered the opportunity to excel both in the pool and in the classroom, and he has taken full advantage of that opportunity. In addition to helping set seven school records while becoming one of the most decorated swimmers in the rich history of the Yale men's swimming and diving program, he has also excelled in the classroom and earned Academic All-Ivy League honors this past season. He was also named an Individual Academic All-American in October 2008.

From his first year as a Bulldog, Righi began making his mark in the Ivy League ranks in his three individual events, the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and the 100-yard backstroke. He won both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events as a freshman and missed out on winning the 100-yard backstroke by taking second at the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League (EISL) meet, which served as the Ivy League championships and included the eight Ivy schools as well as Navy. That was also Righi's first shot at swimming at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, where he went on to take 15th in the 100-yard freestyle, 16th in the 100-yard backstroke and 26th in the 50-yard freestyle. During the course of his freshman season, he set a school record in each of his individual events, breaking some of the records more than once.

After a strong collegiate debut, it was apparent that Righi was a force in Ivy League swimming and a rising star on the national stage. However, he kept on improving and was not about to let up. Righi went on to win all three of his individual events at the EISL meet as a sophomore. He also won the Moriarty Trophy as the swimmer that scores the most points at the Championship. He then went on have an improved NCAA Championships, taking 10th in the 100-yard freestyle, 13th in 100-yard backstroke and 14th in the 50-yard freestyle. After the collegiate season, his success continued in the pool, representing the United States at the Pan American Games. There, he competed in both individual and relay events, earning a gold medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay and a silver in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. His best individual event at the Games was a ninth-place finish in the 50-meter freestyle (22.87).

Righi's junior season was marked by even more top times and his top career finishes at the NCAA Championships. Midway through the season he took part in the Short Course National Championships, placing fifth in the 100-yard freestyle, sixth in the 50-yard freestyle and ninth in the 100-yard backstroke. He again won all three of his individual events at the EISL meet, again earning the Moriarty Award as the top point scorer of the meet. He saved his best for the NCAA Championships, though, taking his highest career finishes at the meet. Drawing upon his past experience at the meet, Righi started off strongly, taking second in the 50-yard freestyle event, only losing out to Auburn's Cesar Cielo, who went on to win the 50-meter freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Games. Righi then went on to take 11th in the 100-yard backstroke before closing out the collegiate season with a second in the 100-yard freestyle. Based solely on Righi's points, Yale as a team finished 20th.

Because of Righi's tremendous accomplishments during the season, he was named the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Mid-Major Swimmer of the Year by collegeswimming.com. After the conclusion of the collegiate season, Righi continued to perform well in elite competition, taking ninth in the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He had an opportunity to make the Olympic team in the race, but lost a swim-off for the final spot in the finals that would determine the Olympic team.

Senior year was a year defined by fast times and even more strong performances, along with Righi's election as team captain. Back at Short Course Nationals, he finished third in the 50-yard freestyle, fifth in the 100-yard backstroke and fifth in the 100-yard freestyle. He again won all three of his individual events at the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships, giving him 11 career titles. Only one swimmer, Harvard's John Cole, has won more individual Ivy League titles than Righi, but that was done in non-consecutive years. With the wins in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, he became the first swimmer to win four consecutive titles in those events, with only two others ever even winning three titles in the 50-yard freestyle. He again won the Moriarty Trophy as well as the Harold Ulen Trophy, which is awarded to the swimmer who earns the most points over the course of his career at the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships. At the NCAA Championships, Righi started off strongly, turning in the fastest time (18.82) in the preliminary heat of the 50-yard freestyle, earning him a share of the American record in the event. In the finals, he finished fifth. He then went on to take fourth in the 100-yard freestyle and 12th in the 100-yard backstroke. Because of his strong finishes at the meet, Righi was named an All-American swimmer in each of his three events. At the NCAA Championships, Righi also had the opportunity to meet President George H. W. Bush, a former Yale student-athlete and captain.

Righi graduates with school records in the 50-yard freestyle (18.82), 100-yard freestyle (41.71), 100-yard backstroke (46.32), the 200-yard medley relay (1:28.21), 400-yard medley relay (3:14.09), 200-yard freestyle relay (1:19.68) and 400-yard freestyle relay (2:55.28).

With so much success in a four-year period, it should be remembered that Righi took an unconventional route to becoming one of the top swimmers in the nation. He was a highly prized recruit after his accomplishments prior to college. Yale, as an Ivy League institution, is not allowed to offer athletic scholarships to its student-athletes. As a result, many top swimmers choose to go to a scholarship school in a major swimming conference. Righi, however, took a different view in looking at the college process.

"I was focused on the greater college experience when looking at where I wanted to go, rather than only choosing based upon swimming," Righi said. "I wanted to have a good college experience and gain a lot from it. A lot of people have said that competition in the Ivy League is not as good as other conferences and that going to Yale wasn't the best decision, but I have never had any doubt that my decision to come here was the right one. I have been able to accomplish my goals here despite Ivy League competition not being as great as in other conferences. I owe a lot to my parents, who said to go where I wanted to go, and Yale was where I wanted to go."

Being a swimmer in a nationally recognized program such as Yale's means that Righi has had the experience of great coaching. While he was working under Robert J. H. Kiphuth Director of Yale Swimming Frank Keefe in an overall sense, Righi most directly worked with the coach in his events, Tim Wise. Righi is quick to credit Wise as a driving factor in his four years of success.

"Tim is the best coach that I have ever had and is definitely responsible for my success here at Yale", Righi said. "He knows swimming so well. Each workout that we do is done for a very specific reason and Tim knows especially well how our body reacts to each thing we do. He has helped me so much in my swimming. I will always be grateful for him. I will always look to Tim for guidance and his opinion as I value it more than any other coach. He has been the secret to my success."

As captain, Righi has had the opportunity to lead the team this past season, both in the water and out. His job, though, was an enjoyable experience because of his teammates. Righi feels that his fellow swimmers have been a large part of his Yale experience and considers them very close friends.

"Yale Swimming has been the greatest experience of college and the reason I enjoyed college so much," Righi said. "The guys on the team have been a second family and will be life-long friends. The coaches have been mentors to me. It has been an honor to be captain and help the guys on the team to grow and improve. It has been a very important part of my life and I appreciate all of life's blessings."

Alex Righi has closed out one of the best collegiate careers in Yale Swimming and Diving history. But it is just the beginning of a new era in Yale Swimming and the start to a new life for Alex Righi as a Yale graduate. Now, Righi plans to move to Chicago to look for a job while pursuing profesional swimming, with his eyes set on the 2012 London Olympics.

Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity