With its first meet scheduled for this weekend, the men’s swimming and diving team is hoping that the influx of young talent on its roster will more than offset the graduation of last season’s veterans.
Although the Jumbos lost seven seniors from last year’s team, only two of them qualified for NESCACs. And with 16 new freshmen having been added to the mix, the roster is younger, larger and filled with more potential than before.
“Last year was supposed to be a down year, and we ended up getting second [at the NESCAC Championship],” senior co-captain Andrew Shields said. “We haven’t lost that many seniors, and we’ve gotten freshmen in pretty much all the events we needed them in.”
Two Jumbos from last season’s squad garnered All-NESCAC honors after their performances at the conference finals: then-sophomore Rob Matera and then-freshman Chris Vorlicek. Matera was the only representative from Tufts to qualify for NCAA championships.
“We have two of the top divers in the conference on our team,” Shields said, referring to Matera and sophomore Trevor Stack. “When I first got here, we only had one diver. Having two divers gives us an advantage going into bigger meets.”
Last year’s team finished 6-2, with a handful of upsets and surprises. The Jumbos fell to MIT at home and at the Engineers’ Invitational, placing second out of six teams. Prior to these losses, the Jumbos had prevailed consistently over the Engineers in every meet since 2003.
On the upside, the Jumbos surprised themselves by capturing second at the NESCAC Tournament, only 371 points behind powerhouse Williams, which finished with 1,860.
“I’m looking forward to this year’s meet against Williams,” senior co-captain James Longhurst said. “In NESCACs last year we were a lot closer than anyone thought we would be. They’ve lost a lot of good swimmers this year and we’ve gained a lot of good swimmers, so I think that’s going to be one of the best meets of the entire year.
“Everybody has high expectations for all of the freshmen,” he continued. “We have so many fast freshmen that everyone else swims faster as a team. As a team, when you know that the people around you are swimming faster, it’s going to make you go faster too. It helps the whole team out.”
The Jumbos will only swim two meets at home, including their first on Sunday against non-conference foe Brandeis. Since Hamilton Pool is the oldest aquatic facility in the NESCAC, the team swims most of its meets at local universities like MIT or it competes on the road.
“We would much rather have home meets because we’re used to the pool’s conditions, and the pool fills up really fast with fans and it gets really loud,” Shields said. “After a couple months we get used to the pool, and then another team comes in and they’re not used to it. I’ve seen teams have awful meets here, whereas we sometimes have amazing meets at home.”
Overall, the Jumbos are setting the bar high this season, starting with their first meet Saturday at Conn. College where they will swim against both the host Camels and Middlebury. Having narrowly missed the NESCAC title last year, the team can’t help but come out this winter wanting it more than ever.
“Based on the number of people we lost from last year and the great group of freshmen we’ve got this year, we’re pretty pumped to go for No. 1 at NESCACs and beat Williams,” Shields said. “They’ve won every year since I’ve been here, and I think it’s definitely the year that we can finally overtake them.”
“Every year we’re lifting more weights and swimming more yards,” Longhurst said. “But that’s exactly what we need to win. We all want to win NESCACs. We just have to give it everything we’ve got.”