The Tufts women’s swimming and diving program put on a display for the ages two weeks ago at the 2022 NCAA Division III Championships held at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis, Ind. The team’s seventh place finish at the meet, the best for the Jumbos since 1982, was headlined by championship-winning performances in the 800-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard freestyle.
On the third day of four-day meet, the Tufts team consisting of junior Katelin Isakoff, graduate student Abby Claus, junior Claire Brennan and senior Mary Hufziger won the 800-yard freestyle relay finals with a time of 7:19.17, beating the runners-up from Denison University by a slim 0.08-second margin.
Although the Jumbos had entered the finals heat as the top seed in the event, their 3:42.01 mark after 400 yards trailed Denison’s 3:38.55 mark by 3.46 seconds. Brennan’s 1:48.85 200-yard split in the third leg cut the Jumbos’ deficit to 1.92 seconds.
“When I dove in, we were pretty behind, and I was like, ‘I know I’m not going to be able to catch the girl next to me, but if I can make up enough ground that I’m next to her feet, then Mary can do what she needs to do in the last leg,’” Brennan said.
In the final leg of the relay, Hufziger completed the Jumbos’ thrilling comeback with a team-best 1:48.31 split, which was two seconds faster than Denison’s final split and marked the first NCAA title won by a relay in Jumbos’ program history.
The day before, Brennan won the 200-yard freestyle finals, becoming the first female swimmer in program history to win an NCAA championship with a time of 1:48.46. Runner-up Lydia Dacorte of Wheaton College swam slightly faster splits than Brennan in the second half of the race, but Brennan’s brilliant first 100-yard split of 52.94 seconds provided the cushion for a final margin of victory of 0.46 seconds.
These historic victories for the Tufts program were a cause for major celebration among Jumbo swimmers past and present.
“Looking at my phone after I won was so special, like people who graduated like three to four years ago were texting just like so much support, so that was really really awesome to see,” Brennan said as she described the aftermath of her victory in the 200-yard freestyle.
For Isakoff, Claus, Brennan and Hufziger, their victories capped off almost exactly two years of hardship imposed by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which interfered greatly with their training and cost them a year of eligibility as undergraduates during the 2020–21 academic year.
“Sophomore year was very sad,” Brennan said. “We couldn’t really do anything. We could swim for four weeks, maybe six weeks per semester, but we could only have one person in a lane at a time, so you didn’t really get to see your teammates, you couldn’t practice for more than an hour a day, and so we definitely weren’t getting any real training in. And then second semester, we got to do something similar, so we basically missed a whole year of training. So it was very terrifying starting this season and not really knowing what was going to be able to happen.”
Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, however, provided the team with a new, valuable outlook heading into the 2021–22 season.
“Having the pool shut down just made me appreciate so much more the opportunities to race that we did get,” Isakoff said. “Every meet we had this year, it just felt really special to get to be there, and I was really grateful just to have the opportunity to race rather than just the one hour of training.”
Isakoff and Brennan, still each with two seasons of eligibility left, look ahead toward a senior season in which they will likely step into greater leadership roles within the team.
“I’m just really excited for next year because I think we accomplished so much more than we thought we could this year,” Brennan said. “It feels like this year we accomplished everything you could ever want to accomplish, so now next year can just be like a victory lap. It feels almost less stressful. Since we’ve done so many amazing things this year, I feel like next year can just be like a fun celebration for all of that.”