HADLEY, Mass. – The NESCAC Men's Swimming & Diving Championships return to Brunswick, Maine this weekend for the first time since 2007 as Bowdoin College will host the 2011 edition of the event starting Friday, Feb. 25.
Defending conference champion Williams, which has claimed nine out of 10 NESCAC titles and each of the last eight, will begin its quest for yet another league crown against a field of foes determined to unseat the Ephs. The three-day championship meet features preliminary heats each morning followed by championship races in the early evening.
A year after taking the 2009 conference championship over Tufts by 237.5 points, the closest margin since 2003, the Ephs rolled to the 2010 title by more than double that figure over the Jumbos with a score of 1,937.5, the third-highest point total in meet history. Tufts was the runner-up to Williams for the third consecutive year with a total of 1,452.5 points, roughly 100 points ahead of Amherst (1,352).
A key for the Ephs repeating this year, says Eph head coach Steve Kuster is, "Our #8-24 guys will have to step up big time -- but ultimately everyone will need to have an impact on this meet in every event they swim."
Over the past five years, the Jumbos and the Lord Jeffs have finished every NESCAC meet in the top three behind the Ephs. Tufts has earned second four times during that span while Amherst claimed second only once, edging the Jumbos by two points in 2007. Although the Jeffs downed the Ephs in a dual meet earlier this season, the addition of the Jumbos to the mix may work in Williams' favor. Rounding out the top five at last winter's championship were Middlebury (1,029.5) and Hamilton (757). The Continentals' fifth-place performance was their best showing since 2005.
Part of Williams' success at last year's championship came from its dominance of the freestyle events. While the rival Lord Jeffs won half of the six individual freestyle crowns it was the host Ephs with more performers on the podium for the championship races than any other squad, as exactly one-third (16-of-48) of the competitors in the freestyle finals were from Williams.
For the Ephs, junior Ben Wampler (Glencoe, Ill.) is the top returner in the 50-yard freestyle, finishing second last year, and has one of the fastest times in the conference this winter. Competing with Wampler for the 50 title will be fellow juniors Nathan Mecray (Cumberland, Maine) of Bowdoin and Middlebury's Nick Daly (Cape Elizabeth, Maine).
Wampler not only unseated Amherst senior Alex Fraser (Willowbrook, Ill.) as the 100-yard freestyle champion but also prevented Fraser's bid from earning three freestyle titles for the second consecutive year. Fraser, who holds the championship record in the 100 and the 500, has been a consistent performer in the mid-distance freestyle events over his career at the NESCAC championships. After placing second in both the 200 and the 500 in his first appearance in 2008, Fraser won both races in 2009 and again in 2010. Challengers to Fraser's reign will include junior teammate Ryan Lichtenfels (McLean, Va.), Tufts junior Owen Rood (Branford, Conn.), and the Williams tandem of sophomore Tom Vieth (Louisville, Ky.) and senior Gary Roberson (Tigard, Ore.). Vieth and Rood were just behind Fraser in the 200 a year ago, while Lichtenfels' time in the 500 was one-tenth of a second off the winning mark.
The Ephs' Roberson looks to complete a rare feat this year, as he enters the weekend in search of a fourth consecutive crown in the 1,000-yard freestyle. In 2009, Roberson established the championship mark in the 1,000 in 9:20.56, over 27 seconds faster than his nearest competition. Roberson cut through the field once again in 2010 and highlights a trio of Williams swimmers which include sophomores John Armstrong (Gladwyne, Pa.) and DJ Taylor (Dallas, Texas). The three are the top returners from last winter. The 1,650 has belonged to Lichtenfels over the past two conference meets, setting a new standard in the event two years ago before repeating last year. Roberson has been the runner-up to Lichtenfels both times after winning the event as a freshman.
|Chris Corbett '13|
The breaststroke is an event that could favor the Ephs' chances at claiming a 9th title in succession. "We are deep and strong in the breaststroke events," said Kuster.
All three breaststroke champions from last winter will be in attendance this weekend. Bowdoin's Nathan Mecray will look to not only defend his 50-yard breaststroke title but also add the 100 crown to his collection after finishing fifth in 2010. Mecray currently owns the top times in the conference in both of those events. Amherst junior Ben McBratney (Evanston, Ill.) joins Mecray among the league leaders and will be in search of a second-straight first place performance in the 100-yard breaststroke. Among the competitors looking to earn their first NESCAC championship will be Tufts seniors Zed Debbaut (Hood River, Ore.) and Gordy Jenkins (Kansas City, Mo.) and Hamilton sophomore Ian Nichols (Freeport, Maine), who was second to Mecray in the 50 last year. In the 200, Williams' Paul Dyrkacz (Wilbraham, Mass.) beat out fellow Eph Chris Corbett (Highland Heights, Ohio) for first by 0.15 seconds. The two sophomores hold the best times in the NESCAC in the 200 heading into the championship.
During his first championship in 2009, Connecticut College junior Tim Walsh (Lincoln Park, N.J.) became the first competitor in meet history to win all three backstroke races, setting the championship record in the 200 in the process. Walsh returns this weekend looking to repeat the feat and looks to have a strong chance at doing so, as he boasts the top time in the conference in all three events. Last year, Walsh repeated in the 100 and finished second in the 50 and 200. Walsh's competition will include the likes of Amherst senior Reid Fitzgerald (New York, N.Y.) and junior EJ Testa (Cheshire, Conn.) of Tufts.
Middlebury senior John Dillon (Wellesley, Mass.) has consistently performed well in the butterfly over his career with the Panthers. As a freshman in 2007, Dillon placed second in both the 100 and 200, then won the 100 and finished second once again in the 200 in 2008. He returned to the conference championship in 2010 and came away with both events, setting a championship record during the 100 prelims with a time of 48.84. The pair of butterfly victories combined with a winning time in the 50-yard backstroke earned Dillon Swimmer of the Meet honors. A host of first year challengers have the opportunity to climb out of the pool with their first NESCAC title this weekend, including Amherst's Tyler Bulakul (Bangkok, Thailand), Won Ho Chang (Seoul, South Korea) of Bates, and Sam Gill (Springfield, Ill.) of Connecticut College.
Four different squads shared the five relay titles last winter, as only Middlebury won twice, taking the 400-yard freestyle and medley relays. Although the Panthers hope to perform once again this weekend, Amherst has posted the best time so far in three different relay events. Other teams vying for a relay crown will include Connecticut College, Tufts, and Williams.
"I was pleased with how our guys responded to the challenge at the Amherst dual meet (even though we lost)," commented Kuster. "It's going to take that kind of effort and then some for three straight days."
Competition will get underway each day with preliminary heats at 10:00 a.m. Finals will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, 5:50 p.m. Saturday, and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6 per session or $30 for an all-session pass for adults and $2 per session for children and students or $10 for an all-session pass. Doors will open two hours prior to the heats and finals.