In the late hours of Sunday night in Brunswick, Maine, the Tufts men’s swimming and diving team finally ascended the mountain of the NESCAC Championships, winning its first conference title in program history. In doing so, Tufts halted Williams’ 15-year reign atop the NESCAC. The former champions finished second in an intense three-team race that went down to the wire. In the end, it was the Jumbos on top of the podium with 1,671 points, besting the Ephs’ total of 1,590 and the Amherst Mammoths’ tally of 1,467.5.
“I think we all knew that we had it within ourselves that we could do something special,” senior co-captain James McElduff said. “We gave it our all [and] we put forward our best effort. That’s really all we [could] ask for.”
Over the course of the three-day event, the Jumbos set a host of personal, school, meet and conference records. Junior Kingsley Bowen was a major contributor, swimming his way to victory in three separate backstroke races — 50 yards, 100 yards and 200 yards — and setting six program records in the process. In the 50, the Pepper Pike, Ohio native shaved off more than a half-second from his time in the preliminaries to jump from second to first, with a final time of 22.24 seconds. McElduff notched a first-place finish in the 400-yard individual medley (3:56.65) to go along with his second-place showing in the 200-yard butterfly (1:49.31). Sophomore Roger Gu had a monster individual weekend, winning the 50-yard freestyle in a conference-record time of 19.95 seconds, while also finishing second in the 100 free (44.78 seconds). Senior Zach Wallace placed second in the 200-yard individual medley in 1:50.72, while fellow senior Aaron Idelson finished fourth in the three-meter diving competition.
“Every swim counted from everyone,” Bowen said. “So we all felt that pressure, and I thought we did a great job of rising to the occasion.”
Not to be forgotten, Tufts’ cadre of first-years put up an impressive showing, as well. Tyler Tatro swam his way to a third-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle (1:40.15), while John LaLime placed third in the lengthy 1650-yard freestyle (15:39.93).
“It felt like a home meet,” first-year James Parker said. “It was more school spirit than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.”
Nonetheless, it was in the relays where the Jumbos truly claimed an impressive number of points. In all five of the major relays — the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays, as well as the 200 and 400 medley relays — Tufts claimed either first or second, taking the top spot in both the 400-yard freestyle relay and the 400-yard medley relay. The 400 free relay team of McElduff, Bowen, senior Lorenzo Lau and Gu set a meet record with a time of 3:00.79.
“[Relays are] taking an individual sport, putting four guys together and doing something special,” McElduff said. “Our relays were top of the line — great way to get people excited.”
The Jumbos’ relay results are a big reason why they expect to send nearly ten swimmers to the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis from March 21–24. As it stands, Bowen currently ranks second in Div. III in the 50-yard backstroke, and he’s also tied for third in the 100-yard iteration. Gu ranks third in the 50-yard freestyle, while McElduff is slotted seventh in the 400-yard individual medley. It is in the relays, though, where the Jumbos have shown their prowess, ranking in the top 15 nationally in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays, as well as the 200- and 400-yard medley relays.
“[We have] 10 guys going [to nationals],” McElduff said. “It’s awesome just to represent Tufts on a national scale. We’re sending a bunch of relays, not only to score and get points and get our name out there, but to represent Tufts.”
The magical weekend at Bowdoin represented not only a tremendous triumph for the players, but the first conference championship for Tufts coach Adam Hoyt, who was named NESCAC Coach of the Year at the meet’s conclusion. Tufts President Anthony Monaco was on hand to crown the Jumbos as champions.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who took time out of their lives to come cheer us on and make this meet so special,” Gu told the Daily in an email. “We worked too hard all season for it to not pay off, and I think every single one of us deserved the win.”
The magnitude of Tufts’ victory — knocking 15-time defending champion Williams from its perch — cannot go understated. For the team’s seniors, like McElduff and fellow co-captains Tyler Shapiro and Scott Simpson, the result caps off a program renaissance in which they’ve played a large role (the Jumbos finished fourth in the NESCAC in the 2014-15 season). For the non-seniors, the victory does not only prove ceremonious, but is also a source of momentum for future seasons.
“I think to see a team on the rise that just overtook the 15-time defending champs is just going to give us a chip on our shoulder for next year and give us a confidence boost that we can do it again,” Bowen said.