Jumbos hope to build on last season’s 12th place national finish

Then-junior Russell Weeks swims breaststroke in a dual meet against Wheaton College on Jan. 23. (Julia Press / The Tufts Daily Archives)

As winter approaches and the temperature begins to plummet, the Jumbo athletics action heads indoors. The men’s swimming and diving team opens its season this Sunday at 11 a.m. when it hosts NESCAC rival Middlebury at Hamilton Pool, although the diving events will be held at Bentley University. The Jumbos have only been practicing as a team for a few weeks now due to NESCAC regulations, but they are itching to launch into competition.

“The team is excited to be back at it,” coach Adam Hoyt said. “The NESCAC schedule prohibits us from training as much as most schools and most athletes do. Being able to get started officially again is exciting. We’re looking forward to another year full of opportunities, and we’re going try to do something special.”

There is plenty of excitement around the program this year, especially with the expectations set for senior tri-captain diver Matt Rohrer. Rohrer is a four-time All-American and two-time honorable mention All-American after three NCAA Championship appearances. He most recently capped off his 2015-16 campaign with a sixth-place finish in the three meter and an eighth-place finish in the one meter at the NCAA meet in March to lead Tufts to 12th place nationally.

Sophomore Kingsley Bowen returns this season and will look to build on his 49.13 time in the 100-meter backstroke and 1:47.69 in the 200-meter backstroke from last year. His 100-meter and 200-meter performances ranked eighth and fourth in the country respectively, and both earned him All-American recognition. 

The two returning All-Americans will need to outperform their past performances if Tufts is to repeat or exceed its 12th place finish at the NCAA tournament last year, the best since 2006. Graduating four-time All-American Michael Winget (LA ’16) is a blow to the team’s hopes, but there is enough talent on the roster to fill the hole.

Rohrer also cited the latest preseason poll — which ranks Tufts No. 17 nationally — as a source of motivation and early-season momentum. No. 9 Williams and No. 13 Amherst are the only NESCAC teams ranked higher.

“We’ve put in so much work already in the preseason,” Rohrer said. “We’re ready to swim as fast as we can, dive as well as we can right off the bat. We’re excited that we’re being recognized now as one of the best teams in the country, and we’re ready to prove that. Also, everyone on the team is ready to show that they can be a factor and that they can contribute.”

The Jumbos finished second in the NESCAC last year and Hoyt expects them to be near the top of the conference this season as well.

“My expectation is that we can compete with just about every team we’ll see this year,” Hoyt said. “We have the ability level, the talent level and the maturity to compete. There are going to be some schools that are tougher than others, but we’re right in the thick of the top third in our conference. I can see us finishing anywhere from first to fourth place, depending on how well we put it together and how well the other teams put it together.”

Senior tri-captain Russ Weeks, who swims the individual medley and the breaststroke, believes that the team’s success last season was in part due to the Jumbos’ impressive work ethic.

“I would like to carry over the work ethic we had last season. We were able to stay motivated and focused on our training throughout the entire season and the results paid off,” Weeks told the Daily in an email. “I would like to work on our intensity during races by maintaining our confidence and being aggressive in the water. Winning or losing can be determined by hundredths of a second, so being able to keep up the intensity and finish strong into the wall can make a huge difference in the end.”

Hoyt has tried to motivate his swimmers to work hard and develop a winning mentality going into the new season.

“I think attitude and effort are everything, so that’s something we focus a lot on,” Hoyt said. “Swimming is a tough sport, and it’s a very honest sport. You can’t blame your time on another player or a teammate or a coach. I try to talk a lot with our men about attitude, and I tell them to stay positive.”

Hoyt noted that he does this especially with the first-years, which is particularly important as the 15-strong first-year class is the largest on the team. The upperclassmen have also taken to mentoring the rookies and making them feel welcome in the program.

“With such a young team, I feel that it is essential to set the tone and lead by example,” Weeks said. “In order to be the best we can be and to have everyone on the same level, I need to be able to share my knowledge and experience with the underclassmen.”

Rohrer also noted that enjoying competing is an important factor in developing the necessary motivation and drive for success, and wants others to enjoy being part of the team as much as he does.

“[The sport] is fun. I love it,” Rohrer said. “I wouldn’t have stuck with it if it wasn’t fun. It’s a blast, and I want everyone to love this team as much as I do. At the same time, we are a top 20 team. We have to work to be successful.”