Capping off arguably its best season in the last several years, Tufts finished second overall at last weekend’s NESCAC Championships at Williams College for the first time since 2010. As expected, perennial NESCAC champion Williams took the top spot, finishing with a 1,789.5 score, while Conn. College, Amherst and Bates rounded out the top five.
The final event of the meet, the 400 freestyle relay, was a nail-biter, with Tufts heading into the relay in third and Conn. College in second. The Jumbos were 16.5 points behind the Camels initially, and it looked like Conn. College had all but wrapped up the runner-up spot as its top foursome finished third in the race, just ahead of Tufts’ fourth-place finish. The Camels’ lead grew to 18.5 points. Just when it seemed like a runner-up finish would be just out of reach for Tufts, Conn. College’s second foursome was disqualified for an early take-off and Tufts’ second group finished in 13th place, earning 22 points. When the dust had settled, those points were just enough to move the Jumbos 3.5 points ahead of the Camels and into an overall second place finish — winning by a 1410.5 to 1407 margin.
The final day of the meet saw Tufts collect two first-place finishes, two new school records and seven NCAA B cut times as the team rallied to second place.
“I think the team did a phenomenal job this past weekend,” Kingsley Bowen, a first-year, said. “Everyone swam their hearts out, and it showed. I’ve been told by the team captains that this year’s team has been the hardest working Tufts swimming and diving team in recent memory, and it is satisfying to see that extra work pay off.”
Senior Anthony DeBenedetto echoed this sentiment, explaining that the NESCAC meet was a great way for him to conclude his time swimming for Tufts.
“NESCACs this past weekend was an amazing meet,” DeBenedetto said. “As a senior, I couldn’t have asked for a more committed and talented group of athletes with whom to finish off my career. In my 15 years of competitive swimming, never before have I experienced as much camaraderie and positive energy as I did this weekend.”
Junior diver Matt Rohrer continued the Jumbos’ traditional dominance of the boards, earning a conference diving title for the third consecutive year. His win came in the three-meter event as Rohrer edged senior Asher Lichtig of Amherst by a narrow margin of 503.10 to 494.60 points on Sunday evening. The win came as payback after Lichtig bested Rohrer in the close one-meter finals on Friday, denying the All-American both titles in the same year once again. Rohrer was the three-meter champion his freshman year and the one-meter champion last year, as the Jumbos have now won 10 of the last 14 NESCAC diving championships.
Finally nabbing his first conference title, senior tri-captain Michael Winget finished first in the 200 backstroke with a 1:47.30 time, earning him a new school record and an NCAA B cut mark. Bowen, who had broken Winget’s record in the event with a 1:47.57 in the event earlier in the day in the preliminaries, finished just behind Winget in second with 1:47.34 to earn a B cut time as well.
“Overall, I’m happy with my performance,” Bowen said. “I had all best times except for one event, and I now know what details I need to focus on to keep improving. One major highlight was in the finals of the 200 backstroke. I was racing against Michael Winget and Ben Lin, a stellar backstroker who set the pool record in the event earlier that morning. Winget and I finished 0.04 off each other and won a narrow one-two in the event, and I’ve never been happier to get second place.”
Over the weekend, the team set nine different Tufts school records in the 50 backstroke, 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, 50 butterfly, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay. On Sunday, DeBenedetto broke his 200 fly school record in the preliminaries with a 1:49.77 time. He ended up finishing fifth in the finals with a time of 1:51.21. Both performances were under the 1:53.87 NCAA B qualifier.
“Personally, I am incredibly happy with my performances,” DeBenedetto said. “Recapturing my school record and temporarily holding the Williams pool record in the 200 butterfly are clear highlights. I achieved most of the goals that I had going into the meet and had been striving for for the past four years. I think that my freshman year self would be proud of me now.”
On Saturday, Tufts picked up two conference titles. The 800 freestyle relay team of Bowen, first-year Noah Cagley, sophomore Zachary Wallace and Winget finished the day with a 6:49.22 time, just beating out the Williams relay’s 6:50.65 time. Bowen also finished first and won himself another conference title in the 100 butterfly. However, that wasn’t the most memorable moment for the first-year.
“I think I swam well, but the team’s performance as a whole was especially incredible on Sunday,” Michael Brienza, a sophomore, said. “That night, we finally realized how fast we can really be. I think the other days, especially Friday, we were just going through the motions.”
Brienza also believes that strong fan support helped carry the team last weekend and had an effect on its racing.
“I am entirely sure we couldn’t have come close to second place without [our fans],” he said.
The team’s seniors are able to recognize that this Tufts team, one of the best the school has ever had, finished with what is undoubtedly the program’s strongest finish in years.
“Ever since my freshman year, it has been our goal to finish top three in the NESCAC,” DeBenedetto said. “This year, we not only broke out of our three-year fourth-place rut, but we defeated our long-time rivals [Conn. College] by only 3.5 points. Our second-place finish was incredible for the whole team, but for the seniors it really felt like a perfect culmination of our Tufts swimming experience.”
Over the course of the weekend, the Jumbos accumulated 15 NCAA B cut times across eight individual events and both medley relay events in one of the strongest across-the-board team performances in program history. Eight Jumbos received All-Conference awards this week, and Bowen received the NESCAC Rookie of the Year Award.
Of those B cuts, though, only three qualified for the NCAA Div. III Championships next month in Greensboro, N.C. Last night, Winget, DeBenedetto and Bowen were all officially announced as NCAA participants, as all three will be competing in the 100 butterfly and 200 backstroke. Winget and Bowen will be competing in the 100 backstroke as well, while DeBenedetto will be competing in the 200 butterfly for his third event. The three swimmer-squad is the largest contingent of swimmers Tufts has sent to NCAAs since 2011.
In the meantime, Rohrer and sophomore diver Aaron Idelson head to the NCAA Zone Qualifiers at Wellesley this afternoon and tomorrow as they try to qualify for the NCAA Championships themselves. The action kicks off at 2 p.m. and continues at noon tomorrow.