Nationals-bound Jumbos hope to close season on high note in Indianapolis

Senior Neil Spazzarini swims the butterfly during Tufts' meet at Wheaton College on Jan. 21, 2017. Dave DeCortin / The Tufts Daily

For one member of the Tufts women’s swimming and diving team and 11 members of the men’s team, spring break will be anything but a break. The NCAA Championships, held in Indianapolis at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Natatorium, will start on Wednesday and extend for four full days.

Senior co-captain Anna Kimura is the lone Jumbo on the women’s side to qualify for the meet. The Bellevue, Wash. native is seeded 12th in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:19.44, 31st in the 100 breast in 1:05.47 and 35th in the 200 individual medley with a 2:07.45. Although this will be Kimura’s first time competing at national championships, she feels the past four years have mentally prepared her for the meet.

“Over the course of four years as a college athlete, I’ve learned how to manage my pre-race anxiety, and I now have confidence that I can do it,” Kimura said. “I’ve learned not to psych myself out, and hopefully I can carry that skill into Nationals.”

Not only will NCAA Championships be the biggest meet of Kimura’s career, but it will also be her last. For that reason, her goal is simple: Leave it all in the pool.

“Although it won’t really feel the same without the rest of the women’s team with me, Nationals will be my last meet ever, so I just want to swim with no regrets,” Kimura said. “If that’s what I focus on, whatever my times are, I’ll be happy with them.”

While Kimura will be competing solo, the Tufts men’s team — currently ranked ninth in Div. III and coming off of its first-ever NESCAC championship — will take 11 team members to compete in 11 individual events and five relays.

“Any time you take over 10 athletes to NCAAs, that’s pretty special. We’ll be one of the 10 largest teams there,” coach Adam Hoyt said. “Not only does it show the team’s strength, but it’s also helpful to have so many teammates cheering for you.”

Among the squad traveling to Indianapolis is sophomore Roger Gu, who set the NESCAC record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 19.95 seconds and had a hand in 320 of the Jumbos’ 1,671 total points at the conference championship meet. Gu will compete in an exhausting seven races over the course of the four days, the most of any Jumbo. When asked about the marathon weekend ahead of him, Gu shrugged it off.

“We’ve all competed in long meets before,” Gu said. “This is no different.”

The Ashland, Mass. native is seeded third in the 50 freestyle, sixth in the 100 free (44.31 seconds) and 34th in the 200 free (1:40.15) and will also race in four relays to boot. 

Coming off the high of the NESCAC title, Gu says that national championships will be more about fun and less about pressure.

“During NESCACs, we were all very focused. Nationals, though, is more of a fun meet — it’s an experience to even be able to go,” Gu said. “If I drop time, then that’s even better. Nationals is the cherry on top of a great season.”

In addition to Gu’s prowess, junior Kingsley Bowen has the potential to make waves for the Jumbos. Bowen is currently seeded third in both the 100 and 200 backstroke, with times of 48.22 seconds and 1:46.88, respectively. Tufts’ other top-10 seeds include senior co-captain James McElduff, who boasts a 3:56.65 in the 400 IM, and first-year John LaLime, who ranks sixth with a 15:39.93 in the 1650 freestyle.

Even with numerous superstars in the individual events, when asked about which performances to look out for, Hoyt focuses on the relays.

“The relays are always very exciting, and throughout my experience at Tufts, this is the first time we’ve qualified for all five relays,” Hoyt said. “Because the relays are worth twice as many points, they’ll pose a great opportunity to score well.”

Besides LaLime, all the Nationals-bound Jumbos will compete in at least one relay.

“Although [Gu and Bowen] are ranked highly in their individual events, the team success relies on every single athlete this year, which is exciting,” Hoyt said.

To prepare for the meet, Hoyt has been more intent on resting and refocusing the swimmers — who have been competing for over four months — than fitness.

“Coming off the conference championship, these athletes are drained, both physically and mentally. We’ve been focusing on getting everyone rested and back to mental and physical state where they can start training in a way that will allow them to perform better at Nationals,” Hoyt said. “We’re not looking to gain strength or endurance at this point in the season. We just want to maintain those things and then make slight adjustments and talk about mental focus and race plans.”

With a large Tufts contingent and a strong season behind it, Hoyt has high hopes for the team.

We scored 10th in the nation last year, and we’re looking to achieve that again or score even better,” he said. “After the NESCAC win, we’re confident but not complacent. There’s plenty of room to improve from that performance — nothing is perfect. That’s something we talk about all the time.”

The Jumbos will arrive in Indianapolis on Monday to get a feel for the facility and do some light sight-seeing before gearing up for four days of competition to close out their groundbreaking season.