Led by thrilling wins by Jonathan Christensen, Doug Lennox and Daniel Dickerson, the 17th-ranked Princeton men's swimming and diving team completed a brilliant team season with a wire-to-wire victory at the 2009 Ivy League Championships, held at Princeton's own DeNunzio Pool. The win gave Princeton its 18th Ivy League championship and its third in four years; no graduating class had won three Ivy titles since the Class of 1997.
The No. 20 Harvard men's swimming and diving team placed first in one event and swam 10 NCAA 'B' qualifying times Saturday to finish second at the 2009 Ivy League Championships, hosted at Princeton's DeNunzio Pool. The Crimson accumulated a total of 1,311.5 points on the weekend and broke seven meet records over the course of the three-day meet.
Princeton won the championships with a score of 1,663.5, while Cornell was third with 1,095. Yale (1,033.5), Columbia (862.5) and Penn (808.5) finished fourth through sixth, followed by Brown (616.5) and Dartmouth (426).
"You always want a high percentage of lifetime swims, and we had a good number of them this weekend," veteran head coach Rob Orr said afterwards. "When you have 17 seniors overall, and eight of them on the conference team, that's what is expected of them. Do it now, because you'll be spectators next season. They rallied and did an outstanding job."
While Lennox pointed to a strong start Thursday as the key moment during the championship weekend, Saturday proved to be yet another exciting, and ridiculously fast, night of swimming.
The Crimson, which entered the third and final day of competition in second place, got an immediate lift in the first race of the day, as Alex Meyer established a new pool record, placing first in the 1650 freestyle. Meyer clocked in with a 'B' time of 15:01.18, garnering his second All-Ivy first-team honors of the weekend and earning his Harvard 32 points.
As it has throughout the weekend, Princeton got points up and down the championship finals. Senior tri-captain Robert Griest, one of Princeton's most reliable scorers throughout his career, placed fifth in a time of 15:07.39, while freshman Travis McNamara, the 500 champion, placed sixth in 15:09.73.
Princeton had three more finalists in the 200 back, an event that was won by Cornell senior Phil Baity in a B-cut time of 1:43.17. Princeton junior A.J. Kennedy placed third in a time of 1:46.67, while sophomore Colin Hanna, the 400 IM champion, took fourth in 1:47.00. Freshman Colin Cordes followed up with an eighth-place finish in 1:50.48.
Three more Tigers were scattered in the 100 free final, but the show would belong to Yale senior Alex Righi. With 10 Ivy League individual titles already under his belt, Righi competed against records instead of competitors and ended up beating both. Righi smashed his own meet, Ivy League and DeNunzio Pool record, as well as beating the NCAA A-cut time, with a winning time of 41.91. It was the only sub-42 performance in league history, and it was one of the three fastest 100 swims in the NCAA all season. Tiger junior Jonathan Hartmann placed fourth overall, and first among non-seniors, with a time of 43.71, while senior Mike Carter finished fifth in 43.98. Freshman Mike Monovoukas finished seventh overall in 44.61.
While the 100 free was a senior showdown, the 200 breast was a battle of rookies. Freshmen Brendan McHugh of Penn and Jonathan Christensen of Princeton met for the 100 breast title, and McHugh came away with a tight victory. He appeared in position to claim the double, as he led the field after 50, 100 and 150 yards, but Christensen made a big dent in his deficit between 100 and 150 yards. As he made the final turn, he made a championship sprint to an Ivy League and pool record time of 1:56.42, while McHugh took second in 1:56.98. Christensen's final split of 30.30 was the only sub-31 split in the final 50 yards, and it was enough to earn him his first Ivy League title.
While Christensen won his first individual title, Lennox was looking for his fourth individual title and second of the weekend in the 200 fly. He also looked ready to assault the record book, as his time of 47.51 over the first 100 yards put him in front of teammate and classmate Dan Eckel by nearly two full seconds. That pace was a little too hot for Lennox, who swam in seven events during the weekend, and Eckel made a hard push in the final 100 yards. It made for a tight finish, but Lennox outlasted his teammate with a meet, Ivy and pool-record time of 1:42.78, while Eckel took second in 1:43.12. Freshman Charlie Wang added a 12th-place finish in 1:49.33.
For Lennox, it was one final individual title that capped a dramatic and exciting weekend.
"My strategy for the race was to do exactly what I did," Lennox said. "I thought I'd have a little more energy for the finish, but after the full weekend, I just had to get through it. I'm proud of the way these guys fought through the whole season, from the Penn-Cornell meet that really tested us to the tough HYP and Navy meets in back-to-back weekends. Our senior class is special in many ways. We had high expectations for ourselves and were bred as freshmen by our older teammates to believe we were the best Class of '09 in the Ivy League. We stayed together through so much."
One of next year's seniors will be Dickerson. who completed a dream weekend by winning the 3-meter diving competition with an NCAA A-cut score of 342.15 points. The competition was closer than Thursday's 1-meter battle, which Dickerson won by more than 27 points. This one came down to Dickerson's final dive, which he knew was his toughest, and his reaction in the water was pure jubilation.
"I came in here thinking I could do some damage, but not in my wildest dreams did I think I could sweep both events," said Dickerson, whose best finish last season was sixth at the conference meet. "Having the alumni and my mom here helped so much. I've put in so much work this year, and to have it come out like this was awesome."
Dickerson was named the Ivy League Championships Diver of the Meet, while senior teammate Yarden Fraiman completed a career-best weekend with a fourth-place finish of 280.0 points. Head diving coach Greg Gunn, who guided senior Katie Giarra to a sweep of both events at the women's Ivy League Championships the previous weekend, was ecstatic at the end of the competition.
"Dan is a hard-working kid who loves the sport, and that really helps," Gunn said. "Every year, he raises his level. I knew he'd be in the hunt this weekend, but this was really special. It was also the best ever weekend for Yarden, who just kept plugging away and is part of a great senior class."
That senior class was part of a special going-away moment at the championships, as Lennox and Carter were part of yet another record-setting performance in the 400 free relay. Lennox got Princeton out to an early lead by going 43.07 in his leg, and Carter held on to that advantage in the second leg; that was no small feat, since he went against Righi, the Ivy League Championships Swimmer of the Meet. Cordes extended the lead to more than one second in the third leg, and Christensen finished the race in style. His split of 42.91 was second only to Righi in the entire event and sent Princeton to a time of 2:52.56.
The only thing left to do was celebrate, and that's what Princeton did as a team. After being given the championship trophy, the team took one final leap into the pool. The toughest challenge was getting Orr into the water; he held on to a pole for an impressive length of time, but as was the case all weekend, his team simply wouldn't be denied.
Princeton will now turn its focus towards the NCAA championships, which take place in three weeks in College Station, Texas. GoPrincetonTigers.com will have a full preview when the Tiger squad, which could include a handful of relays, is announced.