This year’s NESCAC Championship is shaping up to be the most competitive since at least the 2003 meet (Williams prevailed by 74 points over Amherst in the 10000+ point meet in that year but has won by no fewer than 326 points in any season since then). 4th ranked Amherst recently completed an undefeated dual meet season that included impressive wins over both MIT and Williams, and they will bring a full roster to the championship meet for the first time in many years. It will be interesting to see Amherst’s strategy for the meet, as they may elect to enter more people in the 50s of strokes and the 1000 now that a conference championship is a real possibility, despite their history of dedication to the NCAA events. 7th ranked Williams, the perennial favorites, hopes to parlay their depth into their 9th straight win in the meet.
16th ranked Tufts seems prepared to safely finish third on the strength of their depth, but, without the top end talent of Amherst and Williams, will have little chance to move up. Middlebury, last year’s fourth place finishers, will hope to hold onto the position behind the strength of reigning NCAA swimmer of the meet John Dillon, while Conn College and Hamilton appear poised to battle for fifth place.
An event-by-event preview of Day One can be found below, and more complete analysis will follow on the NESCAC forum. The remaining events will be highlighted over the following days.
200 Free Relay
Williams College returns their entire winning team from last years NESCAC Championship and thus should be considered the favorite to repeat. Middlebury College, who swam the fastest time but suffered a DQ, has 3 of their 4 relay members returning, and could pose a challenge to Williams should they choose to swim NCAA Swimmer of the Meet John Dillon in the relay. Tufts and Connecticut College should challenge Williams and Middlebury for the top spots. Tufts returns junior Owen Rood, who holds the unofficial conference record in the 50 free at 20.33 seconds with 3 of their 4 members from NCAAs returning for another season. Conn has several stud freshmen joining All-American Tim Walsh, and Amherst cannot ever be counted out with their superstar firepower available for a variety of events (although this will almost undoubtedly be the relay that Alex Fraser skips).
Returning champion Nathan Mecray leads a fast sprint breaststroke final for the second year in a row. Although he won the 200 IM last year, Amherst’s Ben McBratney (reigning 100 breast champion as well) may choose to challenge Mecray in the 50 breaststroke in order to spread the points around for his team. The Williams trio of Martin Soderstrom, Greg McElroy, and Andrew D’Ignazio and Tufts sprint duo of Gordy Jenkins and Zed Debbaut will challenge for a spot on the podium as well. Look for Hamilton sophomore Ian Nichols to also be a factor in what is sure to be a very fast final heat.
Mac Routh returns as the reigning champion but looks to have a big challenge in the sprint fly events from Bates freshman Won Ho Chang. Another group of freshman, Ian MacCay (Middlebury), Tyler Bulukul (Amherst) and possibly Sam Gill (Conn) bring a lot of underclassmen speed to the fly sprint.
In an event that looks to be as deep as it is fast, two time national champion Alex Fraser looks to repeat his NESCAC title for the third year in a row. He will have to hold off teammate Ryan Lichtenfels, who has been lights out this year in one of his main events. This event, which could easily see a B-cut not making the top 8, has amazing power throughout both of the Amherst (9 of the top 14 times in the conference this season) and Williams (4 of the top 14) lineups, with other teams each having a shot of placing one or two in the top heat. Conn freshman Ryan Dignan looks to be among the leaders, as does the Williams distance group of Gary Roberson, John Armstrong, and Tom Vieth. Amherst’s Ryan Colby, Sheng Hu, Parker Moody and Nick Egan will all battle to join Lichtenfels, Fraser and Tim White in the top 8. This event will surely feature some of the fastest swimming of the first day, and I would look for at least the top 6 swimmers to qualify for NCAAs in the event.
History has shown that John Dillon will swim this event, and, given his fantastic performance at last years NESCAC and NCAA meets, he should be considered the favorite. Tim Walsh of Conn, who has been as fast in season as he was at NESCACs last year, will challenge him. Joining the hunt are the Tufts backstroke duo of EJ Testa and Mike Del Moro, and Amherst senior Reid Fitzgerald.
The top two finalists in 2010 return, as junior Ben McBratney (Amherst) looks to hold off sophomore Paul Dyrkacz (Williams) in what is sure to be a fast rematch. With only one senior graduating from the top heat last year, look for this final to be extremely fast, with a large Williams and Amherst presence. An interesting wrinkle would be the addition of Lichtenfels to the mix in this event, as Amherst may choose to move him here instead of pushing all of the rest of their own swimmers down in the results of the 500 free. Amherst will also see junior Bart Federak and first-year Connor Beaulieu pushing for spots near the top of the event. Hamilton senior Bowie Sievers looks to restate his position as one of the fastest IMers in the conference, while a resurgent Chris Vorlicek (Tufts) looks to make his way back into the top heat once again. Tufts freshman Christian Jones hopes to follow on a successful first year to challenge for a spot in the final 8.
A marquee matchup on the first day, All-American and Conference record holder, Williams’ Ben Wampler will look to hold off the un-official conference record holder in the Tufts Junior, Owen Rood. Mecray, Sam Gill (Conn), Nick Daly (Middlebury), and Gordy Jenkins (Tufts) looks to join the top two in what is sure to be a very fast final heat. It could take a sub 22.0 to make it back in the top 24 this season, with around a 21.0 required for the final heat.
Two of the top three divers in the conference graduated last season, but Wesleyan returns the highest scoring diver from last season in junior Galluzzo. Both Amherst and Tufts bring in highly touted freshmen divers as well, with Colin White and Johann Schmidt leading the way, respectively.
400 Medley Relay
The conference record holder in Amherst returns three of their four legs and improves the fourth leg with freshman Bulaku, so they should be able to take the conference crown as well as a new conference record (either here or at NCAAs). Williams, who is always able to field a strong medley relay, should challenge Amherst for the title. Tufts, Conn College (Walsh, Dignan and Gill complete three top end legs) and Middlebury (on the strength of a John Dillon performance) could all play into the mix as well.