Women's Swimming and Diving Championships Preview
PRINCETON, N.J. -- On the heels of one of the
most closely contested Ivy League Championship meets a season ago,
it is quite possible the 2011 Women’s Swimming and Diving
Championships will provide even more drama as the eight teams get
set to clash at Princeton’s DeNunzio Pool in pursuit of the
Frank Keefe Trophy.
With the meet slated to run between Feb. 24-26, there will be three days of swimming and diving, with daily preliminary races set to begin at 11:00 a.m., followed by evening championship final sessions that will begin at 6:00 p.m.
Last season, Princeton edged Harvard by 27 points and beat third-place Yale by 115 points to claim the 2010 title in what was just the third Ivy Championship since 1998 (when the meet became exclusively between the eight Ivy League teams) to be decided by fewer than 30 points. The Tigers enter the 2011 meet as the dual-season champion after posting a 7-0 record. Harvard finished second to the Tigers with a 6-1 record, while Yale posted a 5-2 mark to finish third.
But don’t tell Princeton head coach Susan Teeter her Tigers are the favorite based on the dual season standings.
“As much as people think we might be the front-runners, I feel that Harvard is the team to beat,” said Teeter. “We’ll have to rely on all our talents and have a really special meet from the entire team to keep the trophy at home this year. It should be exciting for both the competitors and the great fans of the Ivy League, and we look forward to racing after a long year of hard work.”
There are sure to be many exciting races on the way to determining where the Frank Keefe Trophy, awarded to the Ivy League Championship winner, will reside following the 2011 meet. Depending upon how the eight head coaches decide to fill out their race cards, there could be as many as four swimmers looking to defend championship final victories from 2010. Last season’s three-meter diving champion, Rachel Rosenberg of Yale, could also to take to the boards in search of a title defense.
Amongst the returning champions to “Ivies” – as it is affectionately referred to by swimmers and coaches alike – are Cornell junior Chiara Spinazzola and Princeton senior Megan Waters. Spinazzola won last season’s 100-yard backstroke and Waters captured a 2010 championship in the 100-yard freestyle.
Spinazzola set the Ivy League Championship meet record en route to last season’s win in the 100-yard backstroke, touching the wall in 54.53, which is also an Ivy League record.
“When I touched the wall and looked up at the scoreboard to see a number one next to my name, I was so happy!” recalled Spinazzola. “I wanted to win so badly and I did it! I felt that all my hard work finally paid off at that moment. It was one of the happiest moments in my swimming career.”
Those moments of sheer joy followed by realizing that countless hours of training and preparation have paid off are part of what makes the Ivy Championship meet special.
Though admittedly biased, Yale’s head coach Cristina Teuscher is quick to point out “swimming is probably the toughest sport to train for.” And though many of the teams and racers have aspirations that include the NCAA Championship, it starts with the Ivy League Championship meet, as swimmers and divers have geared their seasons toward swimming their best at the annual showdown.
“Ivies is not only a meet where we reveal our depth and strength in the Ivy League,” said Waters. “But [it is] also an opportunity for us to make a name for Princeton on the national level by qualifying women to NCAAs.”
Waters, who enters the championship event with the top 2010-11 Ivy times in the 50-yard freestyle (22.68), the 100-yard butterfly (53.67) and the 100-yard freestyle (49.67), knows this year’s races will be just as close as years past, making any title defense that much more difficult.
“I don’t really see the 100-free as mine to defend considering I won the event last year by barely out-touching the second-place finisher,” conceded Waters. “This year the competition is close again; if I get to swim it [the 100-free] at home for the last time, I want to give the fans an exciting race to watch.”
While all the championship finals are sure to entertain, one would have to think that with last season’s top-seven finishers currently swimming for their respective teams, Saturday night’s 200-yard backstroke championship final should provide some fireworks. The field could be led by Princeton’s Meredith Monroe, who set the meet record en route to the 2010 Championship Final win (1:56.61).
“It is so rewarding to look up after getting your hand on the wall and seeing your whole team cheering and in uproar,” Monroe said about winning a championship race at the Ivies. “Knowing that I did everything I could to help the team is a great feeling.”
While the individual races and sprints to the finish are special, it is that sense of team, which Monroe referred to, that also makes the Ivy Championship special for all involved.
Harvard’s Kate Mills, a senior with three years of NCAA Championship experience, heads into her final Ivy Championship meet with several of the fastest times recorded across the League during the 2010-11 season. She holds this season’s top mark in the 500-yard freestyle (4:50.21) and the second fastest times in the 200-yard IM (2:02.88) and the 200-freestyle (1:49.80). Mills also agrees that the Ivy Championship is set apart due to the camaraderie of each team.
“Ivies is very different from a regular year-round meet for the emphasis changes from being ‘what place did I get’ to ‘what place did Harvard get?’” explained Mills. “All of a sudden you are competing for something outside of yourself which is a unique experience in what is generally an individual sport. It’s always such an honor to represent your school at the highest level possible. And swimming in championship meet like Ivies is my way to do so.”
Teuscher, a first-year head coach with the Bulldogs, echoes Mills’ sentiments when talking about her team’s prospects at the upcoming meet.
“We have had fantastic leadership this year from our captain Annie Killian,” stated Teuscher. “What will make us successful is that it’s not just about one person’s success—it’s about the entire team. That’s exciting in what is usually considered an individual sport.”
Teuscher is in a uniquely qualified position of understanding what makes for a successful run at the Ivy Championship, having swum for Columbia from 1997-2000. Aside from winning four NCAA Championships titles while swimming for the Lions, Teuscher won 12 Ivy League titles and still holds the Ivy record for the fastest times in the 500-yard freestyle (4:35.45) and the 200-yard IM (1:57.63).
“I’m excited to be on the deck as a coach coming back to Ivies,” said Teuscher. “I have been far enough removed from my own swimming that I don’t even think of it as returning, but rather, me and Toni’s [Pullman – assistant coach] first year at Ivies. I don’t miss racing; I enjoy watching our women excel.”
While events such as the 100 and 200-yard backstroke and 100-freestyle return veteran laden fields, several other races appear to be wide open.
With Susan Kim, formerly of Yale, no longer in the mix, the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke events will have a new Ivy Champion for the first time in two years as Kim had taken the 2009 and 2010 titles at both distances. Heading into the 2011 championship, Princeton freshman Andrea Kropp has the top Ivy time this season in the 100-breaststroke (1:02.14) and is followed closely by Columbia sophomore Katie Meili (1:02.79). Meili finished second in the 100 and fourth in the 200-yard breaststroke at last year’s championship. Also of note, Yale senior Athena Liao, who finished fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke and fourth in the 200-yard breaststroke last season, enters the 2011 championship with the second-fastest Ivy time in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:15.23).
A race that is guaranteed to have a new champion for the first time in four years is Friday night’s 200-yard IM. Princeton’s Courtney Kilkuts capped off a brilliant run last season when she won her fourth 200-yard IM Championship Final in a time of 2:00.32. Harvard veteran Mills finished just .36 behind Kilkuts last season, and with the second-fastest 2010-11 Ivy time (2:02.88), she could be considered one of the favorites heading into the meet. Kropp owns the fastest 2010-11 Ivy time (2:01.14).
Also of note, the one and three-meter diving fields return the majority of last season’s top finishers. Add to that a handful of impact freshmen and both diving events are sure to be extremely competitive. Rosenberg, a junior with the Bulldogs, will be gunning for back-to-back titles on the three-meter board. She enters the championship with the second-best Ivy score from 2010-11 (306.15). One of her top competitors could be Dartmouth freshman Katy Feng, who had an Ivy-best score of 386.58 this season.
“There are some great freshmen divers amongst all the Ivy League schools and they will impacted the standings a great deal this year,” said Dartmouth diving coach Chris Hamilton.
On the one-meter boards, Princeton junior Christina Kirkwood enters the meet with the best Ivy score this season (293.55), followed by Feng (291.22) and Rosenberg (290.92).
“Whoever dives the most consistent on that day and with maybe a little luck will win this year on either boards at the Ivy League Championship,” Hamilton assessed. “It should be a fun competition to watch.”
The five relay races should also provide spectators with plenty of excitement as well. The 400-yard freestyle relay has seen four different champions over the past five seasons, so it could be anyone’s guess as to who will win. On the other hand, the rest of the League will be looking to unlock Princeton’s stranglehold on the 800-yard freestyle relay, as the Tigers have won the event seven out of the past eight seasons. Historically, the Brown Bears have been a force to reckon with in the relay events. Dating back to 1977, Brown has captured 40 relay titles and leads the field in total 200-yard freestyle relay wins with 12 and 400-yard freestyle relay wins with nine.
Further delving into the meet record book, maybe this will be the year in which some of the longer-standing records fall. The longest held record dates back 21 years to when Brown’s Jennifer Boyd set the meet mark in the 50-yard freestyle (22.70). The record was threatened last season as the championship-winning time fell just .03 seconds off Boyd’s pace. Furthermore, Waters has already swum a faster 50-freestyle this season (22.68).
The only other meet record still standing from the 1990’s is Teuscher’s 200-yard IM mark from 1999 (1.57.63), which has been far less threatened than Boyd’s 50-freestyle. In fact, aside from Teuscher (who cracked 2:00.00 three times) only Kilkuts, in 2008, swam the 200-IM in a sub-2:00.00 at an Ivy Championship. This season, Kropp (2:01.14) and Mills (2:02.88) head into the championship with the best Ivy times. If selected to swim the 200-IM, Mills will have experience to draw upon as she finished second last season when she recorded the eighth-fastest time in meet history, and the fastest time outside of Teuscher and Kilkuts, touching in at 2:00.68.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, recent trends suggest records in the 200-yard backstroke and the 200-yard butterfly are likely to be set. Heading into the 2011 championship, a record has been set in the 200-yard butterfly for four consecutive seasons dating back to 2007 when Harvard’s Lindsay Hart broke an 11-year old mark. A new mark has been set in the 200-yard backstroke in each of the past three years, a stretch that began in 2008 with Mills, who was a sophomore at the time.
Races will be won, records will fall and one team will be named the winner of the 2011 Ivy League Championship meet. Due to the overall strength and speed of the League, each event and the jockeying for positioning in the team standings is expected to be intriguing.
“The upcoming competition will be the fastest in league history,” asserted Mike Schnur, 11th-year head coach of the Penn Quakers. And, having graduated from Penn in 1988 and in the midst of his 21st season involved with Penn swimming team overall, including four as a student-athlete, Schnur is in a good position to judge.
“At no point has the Ivy League been this competitive from top to bottom,” added Schnur. “There aren’t any dark horses in our League; everyone who competes at this level is capable of amazing things.”
An incredible team atmosphere, returning champions, impact freshmen and a slew of veteran head coaches asserting that the Ivy League is the fastest it has ever been all point to a dramatic championship meet on the horizon.
Perhaps Monroe summed up what lies ahead best:
“I am most excited for the atmosphere and to see all the teams piled into DeNunzio. Ivies is the one time of year when all the teams are together. There is so much spirit from not only the swimmers and coaches, but the parents and fans as well. There are constantly teams cheering and parents yelling. All the swimmers there have put in hard work and we are all vying for that number one spot, the competition is intense and fun at the same time. It’s unlike any other meet I’ve ever been to.”