The 2014-2015 men’s swimming and diving season kicks off Saturday, and the Jumbos are eager to start off strong and sweep their season-opening tri-meet for the third straight year.
This year, Tufts will face off against Middlebury in the opener, a team that Tufts has handled easily in each of the last three years. The third team in the meet will not be Conn. College, as usual, but instead a Keene St. team that has given Tufts significant trouble in the last two seasons.
Part of what has made Keene such a challenging early-season opponent in the past, and will make them challenging again on Saturday, is that the Keene team can start training with its coaches in September, whereas Tufts, limited by NESCAC rules, can’t start until Nov. 1.
“Keene State is an extremely talented team, and they are not to be taken for granted at any point in the season,” junior tri-captain Michael Winget said. “As a swim team we love to swim against them early in the year because they push us to swim faster. That’s mostly what we try to get out of this meet. This is our first [tri-meet], so guys just want to see where their times are and how their technique is feeling.”
Last year’s team rode a 4-3 record in head-to-head meets into the NESCAC Championship meet, where Tufts placed fourth out of 11 teams behind the perennial conference-topping duo of Williams and Amherst and third place Conn. College. Tufts then sent a pair of swimmers and a pair of divers to the NCAA Championships in March who racked up 50 points for Tufts to earn the team 19th place in the nation.
At that meet, Johann Schmidt (LA ’14) earned his second NCAA one-meter diving title and placed fourth in the three-meter to score a total of 35 points for the team. A seven-time All-American with six individual NESCAC diving titles (three in the one-meter and three in the three-meter), Schmidt is one of the most decorated Jumbos to ever wear a Tufts uniform, and he will be sorely missed this year.
Taking Schmidt’s place and leading the Jumbos on the diving board this season will be sophomore Matt Rohrer, who finished 10th in both the one- and three-meter events at the NCAA Championships last season to cap off an impressive first-year campaign.
Also returning this year after competing at the NCAA Championship are Winget and sophomore William Metcalfe. After breaking no fewer than three school backstroke records at the NESCAC Championship meet, Winget made the final in the 100 backstroke at the NCAA meet and broke his own record to place 16th, earning him an All-America Honorable Mention. Metcalfe, capping off a strong first season, also broke a school record in the 200 fly to place 19th.
“Finishing 19th at nationals was huge for us last year,” junior tri-captain Cam Simko said. “It’s the first time we’ve been ranked top 20 in the nation in a really long time, and we did that with only four guys representing us at nationals. Our end of the year goals as a team are to get more guys qualified for nationals and more A-final performances at NESCACs.”
The Jumbos will have more weapons than just the three returning NCAA qualifiers when they square off against the Panthers and the Owls next weekend. Captaining the team alongside Winget this year will be Simko and senior Mike Napolitano, both of whom swam national B cut times at NESCACs in the 200 butterfly and 500 freestyle, respectively.
Junior Anthony DeBenedetto, who was the school record holder in the 200 fly before Metcalfe’s NCAA performance, will also be returning, as will sophomore Luca Guadagno, who swam a B cut time in the 400 IM at NESCACs.
Of course, the large and talented first-year class will undoubtedly bolster the roster of upperclassmen. According to Winget, it’s too early in the season to be able to really predict exactly how the first-years will transition to college-level competition, but those to watch this season will include breaststroker Morgan Ciliv, distance freestyler James McElduff, IM swimmer Zach Wallace, sprint freestyler Lorenzo Lau and middle-distance freestyler Neil Spazzarini.
And, of course, another bright spot this season will be having a home pool to swim in. Last year was marred by the discovery of a large crack in the base of Hamilton Pool over winter break, which closed the pool for maintenance for the entire second half of the season.
Although both the men’s and women’s teams were able to practice at nearby Malden and MIT facilities at off-hours, the lack of a pool was certainly more than an inconvenience and definitely a morale dampener as they were unable to host any home meets. It’s not clear how significant a role this played in the Jumbos’ training, but having Hamilton Pool fully functional this season can only be a boon.
“I don’t want to make the crack in the pool an excuse for our swim season last year, because we still swam faster and dove better than we did in 2012-2013,” said Simko. “Having to commute to other pools in order to practice was definitely exhausting and several guys—including myself—were burnt out by the end of the season. [But] that just makes me wonder how we would have finished if the pool problem didn’t exist, and gets me excited knowing that this year we have the resources necessary to have an even better season.”
Last year’s season may have been a relatively successful one, ending with the team’s best finish at the NCAA Championships since 2010, but that doesn’t mean the Jumbos are content. This year Tufts is looking to at least get back to the top three in the NESCAC, which would mean beating out an always solid Conn. College team, but the Jumbos are confident about their prospects.
“I 100 percent think the team can improve,”Winget said. “While we graduated a big senior class, we brought in a stellar freshman class, and they are already stepping up in a big way for the team. This should lead to positive results for the team because we filled some holes we had last year.”
“We graduated a class of 12 seniors last year and welcomed a class of 20 freshmen,” Simko said. “No one can replace the class of 2014, but we still have the numbers that we want. Tufts Swimming and Diving is a young team full of ambitious new faces and determined returning athletes—only good things can happen by mixing the two.”