Tufts women’s swimming looks to cap off its best season since its 2011-2012 campaign with a strong showing at this weekend’s NESCAC Championships at Middlebury College. With a 4-3 record in head-to-head meets this season, the Jumbos finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time in the last four years, likely improving the seventh-place finish received at NESCACs the last two seasons. Williams College, the perennial conference champions, captured last year’s NESCAC title by amassing a conference-record 2103.5 points. Bates, Middlebury, Amherst and Bowdoin round out the top five with Tufts at seventh for the second year in a row.
The Jumbos, however, have set their sights on dethroning the conference’s usual top teams this year, and their goal seems attainable.
In a bold move, Tufts has named 12 first-years to its 22-women roster, and the move to lean on the team’s youth could be a major key to success this weekend. The team started off the fall semester portion of its season strong, falling to Middlebury – a team that placed the third at last year’s NESCAC championships and has consistently finished near the top of the conference — by just two points while beating Conn. College in the season-opening tri-meet. The Jumbos went on to put a 172-126 beatdown on the Wesleyan Cardinals last Dec. 11. Tufts continued to put up increasingly dominant performances as the season ended, showing no trouble against Wheaton College on Seniors Day and putting up a slew of impressive individual performances at the Middlebury Invitational two weeks ago.
“As a team we would love to improve upon our seventh-place finish last year,” junior Amanda Gottschalk said. “We have a competitive and talented group of ladies this year and I know if we focus and race our hearts out we will accomplish great things. We have been training hard this entire season and are excited to see all of our hard work pay off.”
Gottschalk is ranked fifth in the NESCAC in the 200 breaststroke with a 2:25.99 seed time, eighth in the 400 individual medley with a 4:40.41 seed time and 18th in the 200 individual medley with a 2:13.45 seed time. With those seed times, Gottschalk is set up to have a potentially big weekend for the Jumbos.
Among rookie standouts that the Jumbos will be counting on is first-year Caroline McCormick—she carries a 28.56 time in the 50-meter backstroke which is 18th in the NESCAC, as she enters this weekend’s competition.
“Individually, I hope to drop time in all my events and make it back to finals, hopefully in the top eight heat,” McCormick said. “In order to perform our best, the team needs to stay confident and race the people next to them. Additionally we need to win the close races that come down to a touch out.”
Tufts will also look to standout first-year Jen Lucius to contribute big points in the distance events, as she swam an impressive 5:23.35 500 meter race earlier this season.
“My individual goal is to swim season best times in my 500, 1000, and 1650 [meter races],” Lucius said. “I want to be able to take my races out faster in addition to finishing them well. Our team goals are to swim as fast as possible and to show off all the hard work we put in during training. Of course, we want to have as much fun as a team as possible too, and we want to use the positive energy to our advantage.”
The Jumbos also feature one of the conference’s top divers in junior Kylie Reiman, who has consistently won diving events for the team this season. She finished fourth in the one-meter and sixth in the three-meter at last year’s NESCACs, and she has only improved this season. Other athletes to watch include junior Sarah Elghor in breaststoke, first-year Colleen Doolan in the butterfly and senior tri-captain Molly Levene in freestyle.
“My individual goal is to place higher than I did last year,” Reiman said. “I’m trying some new harder dives and I really hope that they will be able to push me to where I need to be. It’s not the end of my season [I have NCAA Zones in two weeks] but I’d really like this meet to be a good warm up for the kind of competition I’m going to go against at Zones.”
Rising in the NESCAC will undoubtedly be a challenge, especially as the Jumbos rely on a fast but inexperienced group of first-years racing at their first NESCAC meet. But that does not diminish the optimism of a team that has already received significant dividends from their underclasswomen this season, and its accomplishments thus far are promising; the last time Tufts did this well against its NESCAC opponents in the regular season was the 2008-2009 campaign, a year that ended with a third-place finish at the conference championships and a 30th-place finish at the NCAA championships.
“Team-wise, we’re trying to place as high we can against the other schools,” McCormick said. “But specifically we have goals to beat Middlebury and Connecticut College while keeping an eye out for the other hard-hitters like Bowdoin and Bates. Relay-wise, we hope to put our A relays into the top eight heat which scores the most points.”
Breaking into the top five finishers this year does not seem like too tall of an order for this fast-rising, young and energetic team. Using such a first-year-heavy roster is certainly a gamble, but Head Coach Adam Hoyt is confident in his team’s preparation.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how the hard work we’ve put in this season plays out at the conference championship,” Hoyt said.
Gottschalk expressed excitement for the upcoming meet.
“NESCACs is a high energy competitive meet and we are hoping to use that energy to fuel our racing,” Gottschalk said.
The action kicks off this afternoon with preliminaries at 10 a.m. this morning and the first set of finals at 6 p.m. this evening.