Swimmers close regular season on high note at Middlebury Invitational

Junior Kingsley Bowen swims the butterfly in a meet against MIT on Jan. 15, 2017. (Courtesy Dave DeCortin)

After a decisive 180–112 win over Wheaton on Jan. 20, the Tufts men’s swimming and diving team enjoyed a week off from competition before gearing up for its final race of the regular season. The Jumbos then faced off against the Middlebury Panthers and the Williams Ephs in the Middlebury Invitational on Feb. 2–3.

Although there was no team scoring, Tufts clearly dominated the pool at Middlebury, taking home first-place finishes in 16 individual and relay events. Highlights include capturing the top six places in the 100-yard butterfly, the top five spots in the 100 freestyle and the top four places in the 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke.

The team made a bold statement right out of the gate on Friday night, with three of its 200-yard freestyle relay teams touching the wall before any from Williams or Middlebury. The trend continued, as first-years JJ Batt and Connor Doyle and senior Zach Wallace swept first, second and third places, respectively, in the 200-yard individual medley relay. The Jumbos didn’t let up for the rest of the meet.

For about half of the athletes, the Middlebury Invitational represented their championship meet, since only 24 Tufts swimmers will compete at the NESCAC Championships in two weeks.

“Those of us who aren’t competing at NESCACs were tapered and shaved in preparation for this meet,” first-year Dawson Stout said. “We reduced our yardage and rested a lot. As the meet got closer, we didn’t even walk to classes — seniors would drive us.”

For many of those seniors, the meet marked the end of their swimming careers.

“During the 400-yard freestyle relay, I got to be a part of seniors Tyler Shapiro and Kai McGuire’s last race ever,” Stout said. “After they got out of the water, it was pretty emotional.”

Stout himself had a breakout performance this weekend, winning the mixed 1000-yard freestyle in 9:48.76 and the 200-yard butterfly in 1:53.57, while also racing the third leg of the Jumbos’ winning 800-yard freestyle relay. Stout, a native of Newtown, Conn., achieved personal bests in all his events. Other stellar performances included sophomore Timothy Gronet, who took home two individual wins and three relay wins, as well as Batt, who added two individual victories and three relay wins to his aforementioned triumph in the 200-yard freestyle. For his efforts, Batt was named Tufts Male Athlete of the Week.

“The team’s performance this weekend was one of the more impressive performances I’ve seen them achieve since I started coaching at Tufts,” coach Adam Hoyt said. “There were over 60 lifetime-best times, which was very special. The attitude was up there, the effort was there — I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

The Jumbos’ positivity wasn’t just a result of their strong performances, but an emphasis going into the Invitational.

“One of the seniors said his goal for this meet was ‘Smiles for everyone,’ and I think we achieved that,” Stout said.

For the divers, this meet was an opportunity to compete against some of the same teams who will present big competition at the NESCAC Championship in a few weeks. Senior Aaron Idelson placed second in the one-meter diving competition with a score of 419.10 points and third in the three-meter event with a score of 399.15.

“One meter was definitely better than three meter for me personally,” Idelson said. “My back dives felt very clean. [First-year] Daniel Pascal had a solid meet, especially with three meter. He did a bunch of new dives that he had just learned that week. But from this point out, we’re not learning anything new — we’re focusing on cleaning up our execution.”

Looking forward to the NESCAC Championships on Feb. 23–25 in Brunswick, Maine, swimmers who are competing will now begin to taper, shave and focus on staying healthy. After Amherst narrowly topped Tufts for second place at the meet last year, 1,402–1,391, the team is cautiously optimistic in its quest to improve on its third-place finish and potentially to end Williams’ 15-year winning streak. 

The Jumbos can expect a strong performance from junior Kingsley Bowen, who currently tops NESCAC rankings in the 50 backstroke (23.11 seconds), 100 backstroke (49.35), 200 backstroke (1:50.15) and 100 butterfly (49.54), as well as from sophomore Roger Gu, who leads the conference in the 50 freestyle (20.26) and 100 freestyle (45.62). Additionally, Batt currently has the fastest time in the NESCAC in the 200 IM (1:53.89), while Wallace leads in the 400 IM (4:05.32). Finally, Idelson is ranked in the top six for both the six- and 11-dive competitions at heights of one and three meters, and first-year Austin Pruitt — freshly recovered from an injury — also grazes the top of the ranks in the six-dive competitions. Nonetheless, the Jumbos can’t rely solely on individual performances.

“Our key to success is the relay teams performing their best,” Hoyt said.

The expectations for relays are high, as Tufts leads the NESCAC rankings in four of the seven relays: the 200 freestyle (1:23.28), 800 freestyle (6:52.62), 200 medley (1:31.99) and 400 medley (3:24.89).

When asked for the biggest performance to look out for, Hoyt couldn’t narrow it down to one.

“There are so many guys who can step up,” he said. “It’s impossible to choose one.”