February 22, 2007

M. Swimming Heads to EISL Championships

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One challenge remains for the men’s swimming and diving team. The EISL championships, which will be held today through Saturday in Princeton, N.J., are the culmination of a spectacular season and potentially, the stepping stone towards an NCAA berth.

“The team is prepared and ready for the meet,” said head coach Joe Lucia. “I believe we’re going to race tough and swim fast, while our divers could do some very good things. It’s a long three-day meet with lots of swimming, and it’s vital that the team keeps focused and poised.”

[img_assist|nid=21580|title=Breathe in|desc=Men’s swimming will head to Princeton, N.J., to compete in the EISL championships lasting from today until Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=62]

While the EISL championships may be the most important event that the Red swims in all year, its perfect 10-0 record already demonstrates tendency to rise to the occasion. The format of the championships, however, forces the Red to enter the meet with a completely new approach for this stage of the season.

Dual meets against one or two schools last just one afternoon but the large-scale championships require more intensity and focus than any of the Red’s meets thus far. On each day of competition, more than 30 swimmers will race in the preliminary heats at 11 a.m. and those who make the cut will go on to swim in the finals beginning at 6 p.m.

“It’s different from a dual meet in that we can only bring 18 guys as opposed to our full team,” said senior co-captain Brad Newman. “The top-24 score in each event and there are a lot more points awarded to the guys who finish in the very top spots. Another difference is that all the teams compete against each other at the same time.”

While the Red captured the dual-meet championship by relying on standout swimmers to win individual events, the depth required to win the championship meet itself will likely favor other teams.

“As far as team scoring goes, we are fully realistic about our chances in this meet,” Lucia said. “Harvard and Princeton will be fighting it out for first and it looks from the seeds like Yale has a significant advantage for third. Columbia, Cornell and Navy will be fighting over the fourth through sixth spots, but we would love to steal that third spot from Yale.”

“Princeton won last year without winning a single event,” said senior Rich Bowen. “They don’t have the number one swimmers, but they’ll go 4-5-6. We’ll have maybe two guys in finals if we’re lucky, while they’re racking up a lot of points.”

But unlike teams with a lot of depth, the Red’s standout swimmers have excellent chances to be crowned champions in their events.

“Our top guys are the same in this meet as they have been all season,” Lucia said. “I think a key component is how well our seniors step up and not only perform, but lead.”

Last year’s championships saw six Cornell wins, including the first championship relay victories in men’s history in the 400 medley and the 800 free.

“Our relays are so good that it’s possible that we could win five relay events,” Newman said. “The relays have gotten stronger every year.”

Other swimmers to watch include senior co-captain Mike Smit and classmate Dave McKechnie. Smit is the reigning EISL champion in the 200 free (1:35.42) and the 200 fly (1:46.11). McKechnie is looking to defend his title in the 100 breast (55.43).

“I’m looking forward to the meet as my final shot at making NCAAs,” McKechnie said. “That’s fresh on my mind right now as a good way to finish off, not that this year hasn’t been awesome already.”

Sophomores Wes Newman and Phil Baity are also strong candidates to final in the mid-distance freestyle and backstroke events, respectively. Brad Newman noted, however, that the pre-meet seeding doesn’t necessarily predict who will come out on top in the meet.

“The heat sheets give you an idea but a guy could be seeded low and make the final,” Newman said. “Teams approach their meets differently — some rest, some don’t.”

To the relief of many of the men, the Red has been tapering for the better part of three weeks in preparation for the EISL meet. Some swimmers also shave their entire bodies in hopes of shaving a few seconds off their times along with their hair.

“The seeding is a little predictable in that you can usually tell who the top two or three guys will be,” Bowen said. “But then again you don’t know if swimmers have shaved or tapered. Especially when half a second makes a big difference, you never know. Someone could drop a lot more time than other people.”

For the freshman, the championships will be the largest collegiate meet of their careers thus far but for some seniors, they are the swan song that concludes their careers.

“This’ll be emotional for me, it’s the end of 15 years of swimming,” Bowen said. “For the team as a whole, it’s the really big focus for swimming fast and a way to cap off a great year.”