Monday, March 7, 2011

You're A Firework

TigerBlog's musical taste has been framed by decades of listening to what is commonly called "Classic Rock" and a few years of listening to Little Miss TigerBlog's preferences.

As a result of the latter, he's gotten to hear more Katy Perry songs that he would have otherwise chosen to, and he'll say this about her: She's no Miley, but she's not awful.

Still, there'd be a long jump between saying that and actually referencing her in an edition of TigerBlog, so clearly today's entry comes from a different member of the TigerBlog family:

This is real, so take a chance
And don't ever look back, don't ever look back.

Those lyrics are part of Katy Perry's billboard #1 song “Teenage Dream.” They're also the story of a Princeton men's swimming and diving team that turned a potential nightmare season into one of the most memorable weekends in program history.

Go back a year, and you'll find a Princeton team that led its competition by more than 100 points at the end of every session. It had won two straight Ivy League titles and was led by a sophomore class that seemed destined for a third soon enough.

Go back a month, and you'll find a team with seemingly more questions than answers. After getting stunned by Harvard at H-Y-P, Princeton saw a home win streak of more than 20 years end at the hands of a Navy team that would eventually win the Patriot League Championship by more than 430 points.

All of a sudden, it was fair to ask if Princeton had a realistic shot at winning a third straight Ivy title. Two regular season losses were in the books, and the Tigers were going to need to defeat the Crimson in its own pool to win the title, a feat unaccomplished since 2002.

With three weeks left to prepare for the biggest weekend of the season, Princeton went somewhere outside the pool to find inspiration.

They went to YouTube.

Freshman swimmer Daniel Hasler, one of the key figures in another strong recruiting class for head coach Rob Orr, had been battling in a far tougher place than the water. Illness ended his season far earlier than anybody hoped, and while prospects for a full recovery and a return to DeNunzio next season are strong, Hasler was left tracking the Ivy championship meet from a hotel room in Philadelphia.

TB has covered swimming for nine years now. Despite the 60 swim lessons his mom paid for during his childhood years, TB knows way more about the swimming culture than, say, the technique of swimming.

The culture of a swim team is as close as any you can find on a college campus, or at least on this campus. If you ever question that, watch the video. If you can't feel it, you missed the point.

(On a side note, it's amazing how easy it is to post hateful words in comments sections when you can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name. Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of this nation, but it was never meant to be freedom without accountability.)

Anyway, you can't call this a unifying event for the team, because a team not unified would never do something like this. But it was a moment out of the water, away from Harvard and Navy and expectations and disappointments. It was something real, something special and something heartfelt.

And something downright hysterical.

A new team, rested and ready, went to Blodgett Pool last weekend and overcame big-time odds to win its third straight Ivy League title. They knew it would be a tight one, maybe even down to the final relay.

But that's usually talk. It never actually comes down to the final relay, right?

Through 20 events, there had been a total of 7,442 points scored between eight teams, and Princeton led Harvard by all of 7.5 points. Winning a relay gives you at least eight more points than anybody in the field, so Harvard was one win away from stealing the team title on its final touch of the wall.

Enter Adam Powell.

Through 300 yards of the 400 free relay, Harvard led Princeton in a meaningless battle for second place. The Crimson needed to win the event, and that meant catching a Columbia team that led by 1.5 seconds.

A week earlier, Princeton's Megan Waters had the same type of deficit and sent the crowd into a roof-raising uproar by catching and surpassing Harvard's final swimmer. Of course, the Tiger women had the title wrapped up by that point, but it was a remarkable moment when both swimmer and crowd combined to make one magic moment.

Harvard freshman Oliver Lee looked to make the same moment. He just picked the wrong opponent. Powell doubled the lead, clinched the battle for Columbia and the war for Princeton, which took the Ivy title by a record low margin of 5.5 points.

It would have been easy, almost understandable, to let regular season disappointments and a teammate's illness provide too great an obstacle to overcome.

But this was real, and the team took a chance. It never looked back.

It created a Teenage Dream, and then a Dream Weekend.


Anonymous said...

Ironically (or maybe not ironically), "Teenage Dream" was the song that Harvard picked to be the "March Out" song for the last event....

Anonymous said...

GREAT should take over the horrific Prince articles

CAZ said...

Since both my boys are competitive swimmers I completely understand the level of camaraderie bred within swim teams (although I’m not sure if the Princeton men’s team is ready to take on Lady Gaga quite yet).

They couldn't do Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer"?

B.McD. '83 said...

Fantastic job capturing the spirit of the swimming and diving teams at Princeton! Some day Rob Orr (with under-appreciated Diving coach Greg Gunn's help) will get credit for what I would argue is the most incredible streak ever put together at Princeton. In dual meet competition against Ivy League opponents, Rob's teams have not lost at home in 28 years, since Feb, 1983, the the last year that Rob had not recruited all four classes of swimmers. That is what I call "defending our house." Can any other sport or coach even imagine how incredible this is? Among all of the amazing records, accolades and accomplishments accumulated by Princeton coaches, this has to be a candidate for the greatest.