Jumbos dazzle in best nationals finish in 30 years

Junior Grace Goetcheus swims backstroke during a swimming practice on Dec 9. (Courtesy David DeCortin)

After a slow start at the NCAA championship in Greensboro, N.C., Tufts’ women’s swimming and diving team clawed its way back across the next three days, finishing 16th out of 50. It was their best finish since 1990. 

On day four, the Jumbos solidified their sub-20 finish, placing 16th in the 400-yard freestyle relay consolation final. Sophomore Lily Kurtz placed 15th in the consolation final for the 200-yard breaststroke, while junior Grace Goetcheus, first-year Mary Hufziger, senior Colleen Doolan and sophomore Amy Socha finished 16th in the consolation final in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Hufziger commented on the Jumbos’ rise up the standings.

“I think we were just nervous starting,” Hufziger said. “We kinda just had to get our first ones out of the way. As the meet progressed we kind of realized that ‘Oh, we deserve to do this, we deserve to be here,’ and that pushed us forward to performing better.”

In Friday’s medley of events, Tufts finished 13th, their highest position across the four-day competition. Friday’s performances were highlighted by Socha’s fourth-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly championship final. Kurtz finished 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke, too. A transfer from Kenyon College, Socha took no time to adjust to Tufts’ pools. Coach Adam Hoyt commented on Socha’s spectacular performance.

“Socha was really strong for us: top eight in the 500, fourth in the 200 fly, and ninth place in the 100 fly,” Hoyt said. “She’s great, a really hard-working woman on our team. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She had an amazing NESCAC championships and followed it up with an amazing performance at NCAAs.”

For a team that consisted of mainly underclassmen and one junior and one senior, Hoyt knew he had to keep his expectations in check. Hoyt has four years of experience at the helm on the women’s team, and knew finishing in the top 20 would be difficult.

“We qualified 10 women and Doolan was the only one to make it to nationals before,” Hoyt said. “As a coach, I tried to manage my expectations, especially with an inexperienced team. The women came down here and absolutely lit it up. Finishing 16th was something we know might be possible, but I knew it would be really, really hard to accomplish that. It was a great way to cap off an amazing year.”

The Jumbos improved on their day one performance on Thursday; they scored 28 team points, broke three school records, and moved up four places in the standings. Socha won the consolation final in the 100-yard butterfly, eviscerating Tufts’ seven-year-old school record with a 55.22 time.

In the 400-yard medley relay, the fearsome foursome of first-year Emma Donchi, Kurtz, Socha and Hufgizer beat their own record from this year’s NESCACs by exactly one second when they finished 11th in the finals.

Sophomore Abby Claus finished 13th in the 400-yard individual medley (IM) as the 22nd seed in the competition. Her 4:27.73 time in the preliminaries was just under the previous school record that has stood since 2017. All of the aforementioned athletes from Thursday’s competition received All-American honorable mentions.

A day before and in Tufts’ best swimming finish at the NCAA championships since 2004, when Mika Sumiyoshi (LA ’04) placed fourth in the 200-yard IM, Socha finished sixth in the 500-yard freestyle in the first event of the entire competition. She entered nationals in the 18th seed, but her 4:58.38 time in the finals pushed her up by 12 spots, good enough for 13 team points. She beat her own school record in the preliminaries that morning in one of her best performances ever.

“There’s a roar of cheering,” Socha said. “You can’t hear individual voices, but there was a point in my 500 and I could see the whole team cheer me on as I got up to breathe. That was really cool. One of the things that gave me energy that pushed me more.”

Points were hard to come by for the rest of the night. Goetcheus — although beating Tufts’ record in the preliminaries for the 200 IM — just missed the consolation bracket.

With such a young team, Socha is excited for the future.

“We’re all really excited to be here this year,” Socha said. “We’re all looking forward to next year and improving on how we did. With a young team, it’s definitely possible, and we’re looking to try and get more. The goal is to keep building on the foundation this year.”

The Jumbos will have to wait until November to get back in the pool, but with the historic performance over the weekend, next season is sure to be a strong one.


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