For the three Jumbos who made the long trek to Minneapolis for the NCAA Div. III Women's Swimming and Diving Championships this weekend, the meet was the perfect end to an even more incredible season.
Senior tri-captain Katie Swett, junior diver Lindsay Gardel and sophomore Megan Kono represented Tufts at the four-day event, earning the Jumbos a 30th-place team finish; but it was the individual efforts that shined through in the pool.
Gardel, who has been a machine throughout the season in racking up points for the Jumbos, finished in a personal-best fifth in the 1-meter diving competition on Friday, earning All-American honors for the second year in a row. After coming out of the preliminaries in seventh place, Gardel turned it up a notch in the semifinals, deftly moving into her final spot and ending with 419.75 points, just over two points shy of Wellesley College senior Kathleen Sorenson's fourth-place finish.
Gardel also finished in 14th place in the 3-meter dive late in the Wednesday session with 399.55 points, earning honorable mention All-American accolades. This year's meet served as an encore for Gardel, who took eighth off the 1-meter board and 11th in the 3-meter in 2007 and 12th in the 3-meter last year.
Following suit in the pool, Swett garnered an honorable mention All-American honor in her last meet at Tufts, which was also her first Nationals meet ever. Swimming in the 400-yard individual medley (IM) on Thursday, Swett improved on her preliminary time by over a second to take 13th in the final, coming up less than a half-second short of the Tufts record.
"I always perform well at big meets and in big meet circumstances," Swett said. "I really tried to not think about the fact that this was my second taper, so I just wanted to go out and race. There were the fastest girls in the nation out there, so it was great to be able to step up and just race them."
Swett followed up with a 28th overall finish in the 200-yard IM on Wednesday, in which she clocked a 2:08.83, a 1.29-second improvement on her qualifying mark that she set at the NESCAC Championships just under a month ago. In the 200-yard breaststroke, her strongest stroke, Swett improved on her school-record time, shaving two seconds off to finish in 2:23.72, bettering the mark set at NESCACs.
"This meet was amazing for me," Swett said. "I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to swim at Nationals once over my four years. I know I said that NESCACs were great because of the team aspect, but individually, this topped the chart for personal times, and for my swimming career, this was so great."
"I was concerned because this was the first time we had a co-ed meet in a four-day format," coach Nancy Bigelow said. "But Katie far exceeded my expectations because every time she swam, she went a little bit faster. She just had that energy."
Kono, Tufts' freestyle specialist, continued her outstanding career on the Hill with a 17th-place finish in the 1,650-yard freestyle, one spot away from the honorable mention All-American recognition on Saturday. Her time of 17:27.26 was just .35 seconds behind Coast Guard sophomore Kim Shadwick, who snatched up the last honor, but Kono managed to outpace her sister, senior Kelly Kono of Washington University in St. Louis, by just less than two seconds. Last year in the same event, Kono finished in 19th place in 17:40.20.
Kono also swam in the 500-yard freestyle on Wednesday and the 200-yard freestyle on Thursday. In fields remarkably faster than last years', Kono took 38th in the 500 (5:04.73) and 43rd in the 200 (1:55.07), the latter of which was just .65 seconds off the 20-year-old Tufts record.
"Megan was a little disappointed, but she worked so hard for this meet," Bigelow said. "She was a bit off because her shoulder was bothering her, and due to the new four-day format, she had over two days off in between races, which was a long time to be disconnected from the meet. She swam very well on Thursday, but I think the delay might have hurt her."
With Gardel's aggregate 17 points in diving and Swett's four points in the 400 IM, Tufts netted 21 points, good enough for 30th place overall — but well behind first-place Kenyon College, which won its 23rd overall and third-straight national title. Still, the impressive individual finishes highlighted a successful season for the Jumbos in which the squad went 8-1 in dual meets and placed third in NESCACs, completing every goal set out by Tufts at the beginning of the season. The NCAA meet, then, served as the proverbial cherry on top.
Due to the combining of the men's and women's championship meets into one weekend for the first time, Tufts' representatives were able to experience an atmosphere drastically different from that of their previous, somewhat smaller dual meets.
"When you have 1,300 fans in one pool house at a given time, the energy is unbelievable," Bigelow said. "Because of this venue, you don't even know that there were that many people there, but you definitely feel the excitement when you're in the pool and swimming."
"The caliber of athletes there was just inspiring," Swett added. "I think everyone is really respectful of the fact that people got there because this year was the hardest to make it to Nationals. Swimming is a different breed of athlete, so it's cool to meet people who do the same thing as you do and are really excited to be there."