Bulldog Swimming and Diving Team Confident About Upcoming Season

Nov. 12, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Yale men's swimming and diving team returns a solid group of upperclassmen and welcomes seven new student-athletes to the team, giving the team a good shot at improving on the success of the last season. On Nov. 15, the team will have an opportunity to test itself against the competition in a dual meet against Columbia at the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool. The Bulldogs, who are in their 31st year under Robert J. H. Kiphuth Director of Swimming Frank Keefe, are poised to possibly have one of the best seasons the team has seen since Keefe joined the program in 1978.

With a strong core of swimmers returning to the team, it is likely that the team can improve on last season, which saw the Bulldogs defeat all except for three of its dual meet opponents. For the Elis, the third-place finish at the EISL Championships in 2008 was built upon hard work and an intense drive for excellence by the swimmers and divers, two things that will continue into the current season.

The Bulldogs so far have focused on preparing themselves for the upcoming season by putting in hard training while they still can without the stresses of meets. They have had the chance to race once, on Oct. 24 in an unscored scrimmage against McGill. The Bulldogs showed that their hard work paid off in the scrimmage, taking first place in nine of 14 events and sweeping the top three places in seven events.

The team will again be led by senior captain Alex Righi. Righi, a sprint freestyle and backstroke swimmer, led the Elis to a 20th-place finish at the NCAA Division I Swimming Championships. He placed second in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle and 11th in the 100-yard breaststroke. Righi, who competed at the US Olympic Trials this summer, is the top ranked swimmer in the 100-yard freestyle and the second-ranked collegiate swimmer in the 50-yard freestyle. Senior Chris Pool also competed at the US Olympic Trials in the 200-meter butterfly.

The Bulldogs look to be strong this year in the freestyle events. Righi will again be a national force to be reckoned with and should be extremely competitive in every meet that he swims in. Having one of the nation's top athletes in the freestyle events will certainly help the Bulldogs against the competition, but the roster also includes a number of other freestylers who will contribute points to the team. Pool and senior Tyler Scheid will be strong returning presences for the Bulldogs in the sprint freestyle events. As well, sophomore Lugar Choi is a top returning swimmer in the freestyle. In the 200-yard freestyle, seniors Sebastian Cousins and Dennen McCloskey have looked impressive in past years and have the ability to make a huge impact.

In the distance freestyle events, Cousins and fellow senior Ilya Byzov along with sophomore Matt Lee have the potential to lead the Bulldogs. All three have turned in impressive times in the 500-yard, 1000-yard and 1650-yard freestyle events.

The Bulldogs return a strong contingent of swimmers in the backstroke events. Righi, who took 11th in the 100-yard backstroke at the NCAA Division I Swimming Championships, will again lead the team in the event. Junior Thomas Robinson will also be a force to be reckoned with in the pool in both backstroke events. Robinson missed the B Standard to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 200-yard backstroke by only five-one-hundredths of a second and is also the second-best returner after Righi in the 100-yard backstroke. McCloskey and junior Colin McCarthy will also have the opportunity to score many points for the Elis in the backstroke events.

There is no doubt that Pool is looking to continue rewriting the Yale record books. Pool, who set a Yale record in the 100-yard butterfly and met the NCAA Division I Swimming Championship B Standard last season, will again be a power in the 100-yard and 200-yard butterfly events. Scheid has also performed well in the butterfly events for the Bulldogs in the past. The Elis also have a key addition to the butterfly squad. Freshman Goksu Bicer joins the team as the Turkish national record holder in the 50 and 100-meter butterfly events and was a European Junior bronze medalist in the 50-meter butterfly.

Look for junior Craig Steen to make another attack on the Yale record books in the breaststroke events. Steen almost broke the Yale record in the 200-yard breaststroke, the oldest record in the Yale record book, last year. Steen will also be helped out in the breaststroke events by seniors Matt Sweitzer and Kyle McElroy.

Eli swimmers also have a good shot to make an impact in the individual medley events. Yale will be led by McCloskey and Steen in the 200-yard and 400-yard individual medley events.

The Bulldogs have a great chance to be one of the top teams in the Ivy League in the relay events. The Bulldogs met the NCAA B Standard in the 200-yard freestyle, 200-yard medley and 400-yard medley relays last year and return the majority of the team.

The diving team will be most hurt by graduation, but there is a strong group returning. While Jeffrey Lichtenstein `08, who competed at the NCAA Division I Diving Championships, has now graduated, junior Drew Teer and sophomore Eric Olson return. As well, the Bulldogs welcome freshman Colton Staab to the squad.

The coming season could be one of the best in recent history for the Bulldogs. With a strong upperclassmen contingent that has set many Eli records and hard work by the rest of the team over the past months, the Bulldogs enter the season with high expectations.

Keefe is looking forward to the season and feels that it can be a great one for the Eli student-athletes both in and out of the water.

"I feel that this is one of the strongest teams that we have had in 25 or 30 years," Keefe said. "We swam relatively well against McGill in our scrimmage and had an intrasquad time trial to make sure our athletes are progressing. Right now, we are just trying to figure out what type of shape the student-athletes are in and make sure the freshmen get acclimated to collegiate swimming. The freshmen look really good and are feeling their way into collegiate swimming. Part of the adjustment is getting used to swimming against the stars all the time."

Keefe is confident that the Eli squad is going to have success in the dual meet season this year because of the swimming and diving team's hard work.

"I look to win dual meets," Keefe said. "We have a good balance between events on the team and many of our swimmers can swim many events. We've got some good relays and exceptional kids on the team that will have breakthroughs this year."

While the actual swimming is important to Keefe, he feels that a balance is very important in the life of the student-athletes and that the upcoming swimming and diving season is about more than only the times and scores achieved.

"We need to balance swimming with the academic and personal lives of our student-athletes while giving them as much personal attention as possible," Keefe said. "This group is very receptive and the leadership is among the best in 31 years. The kids are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team and they are simply fantastic. Come the end of March, our athletes won't remember times and records, but will have learned life lessons about winning and losing gracefully and how to accept it. I want everyone to follow their dreams and on our team, we work together, train together, and support each other and accept the good and bad."

Righi, who is both an exceptional swimmer as well as the captain of the Eli squad this coming year, is looking forward to the season and all that it brings.

"I feel optimistic about the coming season," Righi said. "I think that we have more depth than last year and have retained talent while much of the Ivy League has lost talent. Our chance of success comes from how motivated we can be, and we have the mentality that this can be our most successful year. A lot of the kids are working hard, have a lot of drive, and will be contributors to the team this year. Swimming is a lot about talent, but you need to put the hours in and stay focused."

Righi, who has been one of the most successful Bulldog swimmers in Yale history, is looking forward to helping the team throughout the season in his role as the captain.

"Being captain means a lot of responsibility and I work hard to motivate my teammates, to which I've had a good response," Righi noted. "I really want everyone to look at their individual and team seasons and have no regrets at the end of the year and know that they had the best season that is possible."

While Righi is certainly a talented swimmer, he believes that one factor that will contribute to the teams success is the high-quality coaching that goes beyond just what Keefe, a member of the American Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame, brings.

"Coaching has played a huge role in my success," Righi noted. "The way that Assistant Coach Tim Wise is training me is absolutely perfect and he makes me work hard, but it is the secret to my success. I have a lot of respect for him, which enables me to succeed. As long as you respect the coach, you are motivated to work hard. Coach Don Galluzzi has also been incredibly instrumental in his swimmers' success over the past years, and will continue to guide and improve the talent in his particular training group. Frank Keefe will do the same with his swimmers."

Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity

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