Young team poised to improve on 7th place NESCAC finish

Then first-year Colleen Doolan swims butterfly in a dual meet against Wheaton College on Jan. 23. (Julia Press / The Tufts Daily Archives)

When the women’s swimming and diving team starts its season on Sunday, it will be looking to build on a strong 2015-16 campaign, which saw the team send swimmers to the NCAA Championships for the first time in two years. After a productive offseason, senior captain Amanda Gottschalk is looking for the team to be even better this year.

“We had an extremely productive preseason throughout September and October in which we held captain’s practices and lift in anticipation of our November 1st start date,” Gottschalk told the Daily in an email. “The team has been working hard in practice, and we are poised to have one of the best seasons in the last few years.”

Gottschalk will be a key figure in the pool for the Jumbos this season. Last year, she broke the school record for the 200-meter breaststroke and then broke her own record later in the season. She also boasts Tufts’ 400-meter IM record and was one of two female Tufts swimmers to be invited to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2013. However, the success of the team is the only thing on her mind going into the new season.

“In terms of goals for the season, we are looking to win as many dual meets as possible and improve our point total at the NESCAC  Championship come February,” Gottschalk said.

Sophomore Colleen Doolan is also an integral part of the team this year. After a strong first season, Doolan earned an invitation to the NCAA Championship for her performance at NESCACs, where she won the 200-meter fly and set a Tufts record with a time of 2:03.77. She competed in three events at NCAAs — the maximum allowed for an individual swimmer. Her time of 2:04.11 in the 200-meter fly final earned her 12th place and scored points for the Jumbos at the event. It was also enough to earn her an honorable mention for All-American Honors.

For a team with very large first-year and sophomore classes, the leadership of Gottschalk and fellow senior tri-captains Sophia Lin and Sarah Elghor will be important in setting the tone for the younger swimmers. Developing camaraderie and unity among the team was a big emphasis in the preseason, and second-year coach Adam Hoyt believes it could pay dividends later on in the year.

“The small senior class will be relied on heavily this year, both athletically and from a leadership standpoint,” Hoyt said. “With such a young team, we put an emphasis on getting our women connected personally, connected from a commitment standpoint and connected from an effort standpoint. Getting everyone on the same page, excited about the season, training well and staying healthy … will allow us to work on more specific things as we get into the months of December, January and February.”

Hoyt is entering his 12th season coaching men’s swimming and diving, and last year was his first heading the women’s program as well. Last year was undoubtedly a positive step for the program, but the one area Hoyt will look to improve is in the NESCAC Championships. After finishing seventh out of 11 for the third consecutive year, performing better in the NESCACs is a point of emphasis for the team. Despite the relative lack of progress in the NESCACs, he saw distinct improvement among the majority of his swimmers and divers and he hopes this continues into his second year.

“Swimming is a great sport because it is measured in time, so while you want to improve your ranking against other schools, you can always see if you are improving yourself, there aren’t external elements,” Hoyt said. “A large percentage of our women were able to improve on their times, personal bests throughout the year and scores in diving. Hopefully this year we will continue on that track.”

According to coach Hoyt, this requires a certain brand of mental toughness, one that he looked for in his recruitment process.

“We are in an honest sport and the numbers don’t lie,” Hoyt said. “The clock doesn’t go slower or faster on a given day, so you have to have the type of courage and confidence that allows you to swim a race that isn’t your best or a dive that isn’t your best and be able [to] get up the next day and try to get better. The mental side of the game is to swim with a fearless mentality, and that is what we look to foster in our swimmers. [In recruiting our first-years], we were looking for women who were excited to swim in college, excited to represent Tufts and dedicated to their sport and the program they represent.”

The Jumbos compete in their first event of the season this Sunday when they host Middlebury College at Hamilton pool at 11 a.m.