Nov. 12, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Yale women's swimming and diving team is ready for the 2008-09 season, and if everything goes according to plan, it should be a good one. The Bulldogs return most of the swimmers who scored points for them in last year's Ivy League Championship, and add to them one of the strongest freshman classes to ever be recruited by Yale. Robert J.H. Kiphuth Director of Swimming Frank Keefe sees an opportunity for Yale to improve greatly on its fourth-place finish at the Ivies.
"The league is pretty well balanced this year," said Keefe. "Everyone is within striking distance of the top, and I think we have a good shot at that number one or two spot. It's going to be the team with the most depth that comes out on top."
Last year, the Bulldogs finished with eight wins and three losses in dual meets, along with a fourth-place finish at the Ivy League Championships and a 10th-place finish at the ECAC Championship. They will get a shot at all of the teams they lost to again, beginning with Columbia this Friday.
"Columbia is going to be a good meet," said Keefe. "A lot of the races in last year's meet were close. It's also Princeton [football] weekend at Yale so we should have a bigger crowd. It will be an exciting way to kick off the season for the kids."
The three teams that beat the Bulldogs at the Ivy League Championship were Princeton, Harvard and Columbia. It is no coincidence that those are the three teams that also beat the Bulldogs during the dual season. Yale will get a shot at Harvard and Princeton in January.
The Bulldogs swim a taxing schedule beginning with their winter training in Puerto Rico. They then swim a dual meet every weekend until the championships in February and March. Senior captain Aidan McKinlay sees positives in the tough schedule, saying that it helps strengthen the swimmers for the championship meets.
"Getting our bodies physically used to swimming fast or diving well in meets when we are broken down both prepares us for championships, when our bodies will be rested, and allows us to compete well enough during the regular season to win dual meets," said McKinlay. "Each dual meet is an opportunity to swim faster than the previous dual meet, therefore leading to peak performances at championships."
The Bulldogs have a total of six meets before the winter break, but they have a relatively light fall in terms of dual meets, with only Southern Connecticut State and Columbia on the schedule. That changes after winter break with six straight dual meets followed by the end of the season championships. This is due mainly to the busy fall semester outside of the pool.
"This time of year, seniors are interviewing for jobs, and the freshmen are trying to adjust to the new atmosphere," said Keefe. "We try not to schedule that many dual meets before the end of first semester for that reason."
Outside of the dual meets, the divers will have their most important meet at the Rutgers Invitational at the beginning of December. It will be their first opportunity to dive a preliminary and a final, which will help them to prepare for the championship meets.
The team returns all but six swimmers and two divers, and picks up a strong freshman class. According to Keefe, it may be his best.
"This is the strongest team we've had in 25-30 years," said Keefe. "What it really is going to come down to is how strong the other teams are."
The team is led by McKinlay, who has swum the fly, IM and freestyle over the last three years. She is an All-Ivy selection, who competed in the Ivy League Championships and finished fifth in the 100-yard butterfly and twelfth in the 200-yard butterfly, picking up a total of 40 points for Yale.
"I've known Aidan since she was 10 years old," said Keefe. "She has never spoken so much in her life as she is speaking now. She has really stepped up and is just a phenomenal captain, among the best I have ever had."
McKinlay leads a team that according to her is much improved over last year.
"Our biggest improvement in the offseason has been in our recruiting," said McKinlay. "By being able to recruit some of the top swimmers in the nation, we have definitely strengthened our lineup."
The freshmen that McKinlay speaks of will be looking to step up in a big way this year. Emily Dominski, Hayes Hyde, Erica Kao and Abigail Nunn all came away with victories in the scrimmage against McGill, some with multiple wins. Other freshmen that will be looking to contribute are Caroline Dewing, Athena Liao, Christine Slomka and Meaghan Watters. Keefe is not ready to claim victory yet, however, stressing the importance of the transition from high school to college.
"We've got some freshmen who are looking good, but they are still a bit in awe," said Keefe. "We need to have them get an idea of what this league is all about. These girls were all stars at their high schools, and they have to realize that in the Ivy League, everyone was a star back home. There is really good competition."
One of the biggest areas that the freshmen will contribute will be diving. With the graduation of Ali Jones `08 the diving team has taken a hit. Freshmen Elizabeth Andrekovich and Rachel Rosenberg will both fill in the hole left by Jones.
"Lisa and Rachel are very talented and have the potential to be some of our most important scorers in dual meets," said McKinlay. "They both were finalists at AAU Nationals, so they know how to compete at a high level."
Returning starters to keep an eye on will be McKinlay (butterfly), junior Andrea Clifford (sprint free and fly, strong contributor in relays), junior Susan Kim (breaststroke), sophomore Ileana Lucos (fly, mid distance free, IM), senior Alexis Mann (sprint free and relays) and senior Laura Strittmatter (distance freestyle). There have been some holes created, however, in a number of events, including distance free and diving.
"I think these holes will be filled by a lot of freshmen," said McKinlay. "Abigail Nunn will contribute to the distance free, Dominski and Hyde will pick up points for the loss of Caroline Dowd, and Andrekovich and Rosenberg will make up the points in diving."
However you look at it, this is shaping up to be a good season for the Bulldogs. Combining strong returning swimmers with perhaps the team's best recruiting class has everyone in the program excited.
"I think that every practice and meet leads to an opportunity for improvement," said McKinlay. "Every time we work hard in training or compete in meets, we learn more about what we can do to make ourselves better competitors. Although we have not yet had a chance to prove ourselves in real competition, our team is definitely stronger than last year."
The Bulldogs will open at home in the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool, located inside the historic Payne Whitney Gymnasium, against Columbia on Friday at 4:00 p.m.
Report filed by Charles Moore '10, Yale Sports Publicity