The Tufts men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams had an impressive performance last year and will look to begin their seasons on a strong note at home in a dual meet with Middlebury starting Sunday at 11 a.m.
However, for the first time in 36 years, the Jumbos will compete without associate head coach Nancy Bigelow, who retired last spring. Bigelow was the head coach of the women’s team from 1982 to 2015, before transitioning to the role of associate head coach of both the women’s and men’s programs from 2015 to 2018.
To fill Bigelow’s position, head coach Adam Hoyt hired Abby Brethauer, who previously served as the head coach of the women’s and men’s swimming teams at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.
“We certainly all miss Nancy, but Abby has brought her own kind of personality, energy and character to this team,” Hoyt said.
Senior co-captain Madeline Lee said that Brethauer’s arrival has built on Bigelow’s legacy.
“I think [Brethauer] has been doing an amazing job getting to know our current athletes, bringing a new type of energy that builds on the previous culture that Nancy helped build,” Lee said.
Although the teams did not start official practices until Nov. 1, its training has been consistent since the end of the last season. The annual Brown and Blue meet on Oct. 26 was the first opportunity to put the athletes’ months of work to the test. The first two weeks of practice have been focused on fitness and trying to execute fundamental technique, whether that be starts, turns or strokes.
On the women’s side, the No. 15 Jumbos are hoping to continue the progress they made last year, where they finished fourth at the NESCAC Championships after placing eighth the year before. A number of school records were set at the 2017 NESCAC Championships: Sophomores Jackie Crater and Sasha Fong, senior Colleen Doolan and Anna Kimura (LA ’18) set a record in the 4×100-yard medley relay at 3:52.00. Fong also set a record in the 50-yard butterfly at 25.47.
Meanwhile, Kimura also qualified for the NCAA Div. III Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., where she competed in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events as well as the 200-yard individual medley. Kimura finished 12th in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:19.28, earning her All-American honors. She also set a Tufts record in the preliminary round of the same event with a time of 2:18.52.
The team also benefited from strong diving, as sophomore Amber Chong qualified for the NCAA Div. III Regionals, where she finished 22nd in the three-meter dive and 20th in the one-meter dive.
The women’s team also features a much younger roster, as first-years and sophomores comprise 26 of the 41 total swimmers and divers. Yet there is certainly plenty of leadership for the Jumbos to rely on. The team has nine seniors, including its three co-captains: Lee, Ailish Dougherty and Sydney Nasson.
“By the numbers, our women’s team is young,” Hoyt said. “We have a great core of young swimmers who are going to help us be really strong this year, but we’re going to rely heavily on both the talent and leadership of our junior and senior classes to really make this year special.”
Lee said that the young nature of the team has fostered much anticipation for how the team will perform this year.
Hoyt shared Lee’s optimism.
“I think our current team has a ton of potential coming off … what was a very good season for us,” Hoyt said. “We’ve got some great leaders; we have some great talent. I think if we can stay healthy, work hard [and] take care of each other, we’re going to be very good at the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, the last season for the No. 8 men’s swimming and diving team was one of the best in Tufts’ history. First, the team shocked the NESCAC, as it flushed Williams’ 15-year championship streak, to win its first conference title in history. The Jumbos, hungry for more, went on to finish seventh in the NCAA Championships, their best finish since 1982, with 10 Tufts athletes earning All-American honors.
The stakes are high for the men’s team this year as they seek to prove that last year’s success is now the standard, not the outlier. The odds are looking good for the Jumbos as their two biggest weapons, junior Roger Gu and senior co-captain Kingsley Bowen, are ready to lead the program once again. Gu finished second in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 43.44 at the NCAAs, while Bowen has placed third nationally in the 200-yard backstroke for the past two years. Although the team graduated 12 seniors, the same number of new first-years will join the pool this season and hope to make an impact. Leading the group as co-captains alongside Bowen this year are fellow seniors Chris Simotas and Brandon Jinn.
Even with the team’s first NESCAC title fresh under its belt, the group’s goal remains the same as always, according to Simotas.
“We’re not focusing on winning or beating this or that team. If we’re looking to win a championship, we need to focus on smaller individual goals. At our goal meeting, we discussed having our team be the most energetic, positive and supportive team. If we all lift each other up and encourage each swimmer to do their absolute best both inside and outside of the pool, that’s where the results — whether that be a conference championship or sending guys to nationals — will hopefully fall into place,” Simotas said.
Nevertheless, Hoyt is hoping the team can continue to compete at the highest level.
“We’d like to challenge everyone in the conference,” Hoyt said. “There’s tough competition but we’re talented enough to compete for a title. Then beyond the NESCAC, it’ll be tough to compete at the same national level as we did last year, but that’s still what we’re trying to do. We’d like to bring a big group of guys again this season and see how good we are against the best teams in the country.”
Because it’s only the first week of a marathon season, the team isn’t slowing down the challenging practices for the dual meet, but according to Simotas, the athletes are still amped to compete.
“Especially after our success last year, there’s a lot of energy, and we’re all excited to get back at it this Sunday,” he said. “People have been seeing glimpses of their full potential at practice after a really impressive set or whatever else, so we’re all anticipating how much faster we can go off the blocks against another team.”
November will be focused on building a foundation for both the men’s and women’s programs, with only two meets throughout the month. Both the men’s and women’s teams will face familiar foes at the MIT Invitational in the first weekend of December before facing Div. I Boston College on Jan. 20 and MIT on Jan. 25. The Jumbos hope that these meets will give them the best opportunity to take a deep roster of athletes to the national championship in Greensboro, N.C. at the end of March.