Women’s swim and dive team heads to Ivy Championships

by Gayne Kalustian | 2/19/14 4:50pm

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2.20.14.sports.swimming
by Natalie Cantave / The Dartmouth

Wielding fast suits, swim caps and razors, the women of Dartmouth’s swim and dive team left for their biggest meet of the season, the Ivy League Championships, yesterday afternoon. The team traveled to Providence, Rhode Island to compete at Brown University against the other members of the Ancient Eight.

The Big Green women, especially the seniors, are looking to leap-frog Yale University, co-captain Natalia Vecerek ’14 said. Yale finished in fourth place ahead of Dartmouth last year and in third place the year before. Dartmouth finished in fifth place in both 2012 and 2013.

“It’s been a goal that we’ve had since we were freshmen,” Vecerek said. “Everyone would have to basically swim a perfect meet, but we could do it. Yale and Penn were really close during dual meet season, and we beat Penn last year, so I think we have a shot.”

But hunger for victory alone won’t carry the team. The swimmers and divers understand that they will have to push themselves to their limits during preliminary races to get past the cut into finals and win extra points for the team.

“Everyone has got to step up,” co-captain Christine Kerr ’14 said. “There isn’t room for ‘oops, if I went that time in prelims I would have gotten top eight.’ You have to swim your fastest in prelims. You’ve got to squeeze in an 8th or 16th to get in the A final or the B final.”

After training through dual meet season and tapering in the days leading up to the championship, the women are in their best physical condition of the season. The team lost all of its Ivy meets so far this season, focusing instead on strength training to prepare for the final championship.

Just being in peak physical condition will not put the Big Green over the top. The team is training mentally as well.

“In some meets, we do something called secret psyching,” Vecerek said. “For Ivies, you get a person you’ve been randomly assigned a gift or do a poster or something like that every day. Some people even make fake e-mail accounts to secretly email their person and get them pumped up.”

As a confidence boost, team members often circle up after practice to compliment each other. They also attend team dinners.

Some tactics require sacrifices — strategies other college women might struggle with but tactics that demonstrate the team’s commitment.

Swimmers don’t shave their legs after training trips, waiting until right before the meet to help lose the extra drag and become more hydrodynamic, Kerr said.

“That is one of the most exciting things,” she said. “It’s something else that helps you mentally — some of the hard-core teams shave once a year. It’s nice in the winter because you wear pants all the time, and it’s fine when you’re around people on the swim team, but when you’re around other people they think it’s a little weird.”

As the team starts its Ivy Championship races Thursday, each swimmer will compete in at least three individual events. The swimmers can also compete in any number of relays which, Vecerek said, will be her highlight of the meet.

“It’s the only time that you’re swimming interacting with your team in the same race,” she said.

She said she is particularly excited for the 400-yard freestyle relay, in which Dartmouth came in third place last year. The Big Green also took Columbia’s pool record by a wide margin in the event at the last dual meet of the season.

Charlotte Kamai ’16, this season’s anchor, said the relay is one of Dartmouth’s strongest events because the team has a deep group of sprinters.

“There’s probably about six of us who could take any leg and be within a few tenths of someone else,” she said. “We get so pumped for relays that everyone ends up going faster.”

For the team’s seniors, who are swimming in their last college meet and, for most, the last competitive meet of their lives, the event takes on additional importance.

“I want to go out with a bang,” Kerr said. “I want to hit the wall for one of my races and look up at the scoreboard and just cry. I cry for a lot of people, but this time I want to do it for me.”