On the heels of a triumphant second-place finish in the regular season, the Columbia women’s swimming and diving team is heading to Cambridge, Mass., to compete in the Ivy League Championships. From Thursday to Saturday, athletes from the eight Ivy League schools will battle through innumerable heats of over 40 relays, individual, and diving events in a quest to claim the top prize: the title of Ivy League Champions.
Historically, Princeton and host Harvard have dominated the top of the podium, but this year Columbia hopes to break up the duo.
“There are many layers of goals,” head coach Diana Caskey wrote in an email. “Moving up from last year’s third place finish is one of them.”
The goal is all the more promising given the Light Blue’s regular season performance. With an overall dual-meet record of 7-1 and a 6-1 Ivy record, one of the first indications of the team’s depth came in a narrow loss to top-ranked Harvard, 143-157, in December. Despite the outcome—the Light Blue’s only loss all season—it was an encouraging sign, especially because it was the closest Columbia has ever come to winning against the Crimson.
Two months later, Columbia traveled to New Jersey to square off against the other perennial Ivy League foe, Princeton, which had just tasted defeat from Harvard. Columbia walked away from the meet victorious, the only team to ever beat Princeton in the Tigers’ own pool. The next day, the Lions thrashed Dartmouth at home.
“Women’s swimming and diving has strong momentum heading into Ivies from the exciting dual meet finishes at Princeton and home vs. Dartmouth,” Caskey wrote. “The energy and confidence added from those wins coupled with the taper process makes us very well prepared for great swims and excellent performances on the boards.”
The championship meet, an invitational, differs from the dual meet process due to the number of teams involved. Preliminary sessions are held in the mornings and the top 18 finishers in each event return at night to compete for points in the championship, consolation, and bonus finals.
The Lions will be led by versatile junior Katie Meili. Meili, last year’s 200 IM champion, holds the fastest times this season in the Ivy League in the 200 breast and 200 IM, not to mention the second-fastest times in the 50 free, 100 breast, and 4 IM. However, each swimmer is only allowed to participate in three individual events, so it remains to be seen where Meili will deploy her formidable talents.
A young team, Columbia’s squad features several rookies who threaten to crack into the top heats. Freshmen freestylers Chacha Bugatti and Salena Haung bring dangerous endurance and speed to both individual events and relays.
Bugatti, a distance swimmer, ended her first collegiate regular season having logged the second-fastest time in the 1000 free and the third-fastest times in the 500 and 1650 free for the Ivy League in 2011-12.
A notably well-rounded freestyler, Huang enters the meet with the second-fastest 100 free, third-fastest 200 free, and fifth-fastest 500.
Fellow freshman Mikaila Gaffey will also make her debut, contributing in the freestyle sprints and breaststroke.
In addition, sophomore Laney Kluge, a backstroker and IMer, should exert some pressure on her competitors, and senior co-captain Dorothy Baker will make contributions in the backstroke events.
Overall, though, it will be a team effort and the Lions won’t be reliant on one star. “We expect great performances from everyone,” Caskey wrote.
And the team should be well-equipped to do so: The meet comes on the heels of the release of the newest generation of Speedo technology, the Fastskin III. The new suit is an update to the ubiquitous FS Pros and LZRs which have dominated championship meets for the past few years.
However, the new suit has already received negative reviews. Last weekend at the SEC championships, many of the top teams opted out of the suits, citing defective panels that ripped easily. Columbia ordered the suits months ago, but whether the team will swim in them is yet to be determined.
Ultimately, though, suits are secondary to the swimmers themselves, who have put in a season of rigorous discipline to prepare for the meet.
“The hard work and determination of this team will be one of my best memories of this season,” Caskey wrote. “The team and the coaches set high goals and had courage and confidence in going after them. I expect the coming weekend to be a testament to that.”