NEW HAVEN, Conn. - When they take to the water against Columbia in the first meet of the season Saturday, the Yale men's swimming and diving team will look to prove that despite the loss of three individual school record holders, including All-American Alex Righi, they will be reloading - not rebuilding - for the2009-2010 season. The Bulldogs welcome nine freshmen to a somewhat inexperienced squad that has been training very hard under the guidance of Robert J.H. Kiphuth Director of Swimming Frank Keefe to make Keefe's 32nd -- and final -- season his most memorable yet.
"I told the kids ‘You don't have to win by a body length'," Keefe said. " ‘ You just have to touch someone out.' It's about making the step up to the next level. If you've been 2nd or 3rd on the depth chart, you gotta be able to step up."
If they hope to duplicate last year's winning record in Ivy League competition, the Elis can waste no time in making those steps. The season starts with a tough meet against Columbia, who finished with a 4-6 overall dual meet record last year - including a 172-128 loss to Yale. Yet this year's meet will be no walk in the park for the Bulldogs.
"Columbia was a good meet last year, and they've lost a few kids. We've lost half a team." said Keefe. "Opening up (against the Lions) in New York as we have for years is a little tough. Both meets will be very, very good meets. No one will get blown away."
Following that tough opener, the Elis will travel to Boston, Mass. for the Terrier Invitational at Boston University, where they will matchup up with, among other teams, the UMass Minutemen, new additions to the Bulldog schedule this season. They are set to swim the Elis in New Haven on Dec. 5.
"We picked up UMass on the schedule this year and they'll be tough." Keefe said. "Luckily we get to swim them in the Terrier Invitational and make changes for our dual meet."
That meet, along with a matchup with Southern Connecticut Nov. 23 , round out Yale's pre-winter break schedule.
After spending break at Yale training for the remainder of the season, the Bulldogs resume competition Jan. 10 with a crucial matchup with Ivy League rival Cornell, to whom the Elis dropped a 221-79 decision last season. That's followed by a dual meet at the University of Pennsylvania Jan. 16 where they'll face off against the Quakers and Dartmouth's Big Green, both of whom the Yalies took down in Hanover last season.
"Penn will be tough in their pool, and Dartmouth's getting better," Said Keefe. "It could be an interesting meet."
Tough non-conference home matchups with Navy and UConn bookend the remainder of the Ivy League schedule, which includes a midweek showdown with Brown and Jan. 30th's Y-H-P meet, in which the Bulldogs will look to improve on last year's third place finish.
Yale will try to end Frank Keefe's reign on a high note as they travel to the Ivy League championships Mar. 4-6, the NCAA diving championships Mar. 12-14, and the NCAA Championships Mar. 25-28 in Columbus, Ohio.
The Bulldogs have lost major portions of what was one of their strongest squads in recent memory, and newly elected captain Tom Robinson, a backstroker, has been given the task of leading the Eli underclassmen in fulfilling their potential and matching last year's success.
Robinson is coming off a season in which he turned in one of the best performances of his career at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. He just missed an NCAA B cut by only .17 seconds, and took fourth in the 100-yard backstroke. Robinson also took 17th in the 100-yard butterfly, and was part of a school record-setting 400-yard freestyle relay team.
"Tom's been one of the dominant backstrokers in the league for three years now," said Keefe. "It's hard to fill the shoes of an Alex Righi, but I expect him to do a good job."
Robinson is joined in the class of 2010 by backstroke/freestyler Colin McCarthy, breaststroke/IMer Craig Steen, freestyler Jon Taylor and diver Drew Teer.
McCarthy should be a key component of the Elis' backstroking squad, and will most likely be one of the team's top finishers in the 200 yard backstroke and 200 IM. Taylor was a member of last year's B relay team that took first in the ECAC championships, and Steen set school records in both the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke in the prelims of last year's Ivy League championship meet. They will all need to step up and assume major roles if the team hopes to fulfill its potential.
Teer leads a diving squad that Keefe raves may be "one of the best combinations I've had in 31 years." That combination includes junior Eric Olson and sophomore Colton Staab. Olson qualified for the NCAA Zone Diving Championships last season, and finished with his best performance of the year at the Ivy League championships. Staab will look to build on his solid debut campaign in 2009-2010.
As for the rest of the swimmers, several underclassmen will need to duplicate or improve on strong 2008-2009 seasons if they are to step up and carry the team this year. Junior Lugar Choi will be a force for the Bulldogs in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay, among others. He is joined on that 400 free relay squad by sophomore Goksu Bicer and junior Kyle Veatch, both of whom turned in fast times in the 100 freestyle in last year's Ivy League Championships.
They'll be joined by a strong freshmen class that Coach Keefe said has stepped up bigtime in preseason workouts, and seems poised to make an impact this season. Freshman Jared Lovett, out of Abingdon High School in Abingdon, Va., could be the first of the 2013ers to make his mark.
Said Coach Keefe of Lovett, "He's a good all-around swimmer. He can swim a lot of different things, and I think he could be a really big help for us this season."
With so many holes to fill due to graduation, versatility like Lovett's (he is listed as specializing in backstroke, breastsroke, butterfly AND IM) will prove invaluable to the Elis in their quest for an Ivy League Championship this season - as will, according to Keefe, maintaining a good attitude.
"It's fun coaching kids that want to get better," said Keefe. "We're out here to win - that's what meets are all about - that's why they keep score. But you do the work to improve, to help your teammates succeed, and to have fun."
If this year's men's swimmers and divers fulfill their potential, fun is exactly what Coach Keefe's final season is going to be.
Report by Chelsea Janes '12, Yale Sports Publicity