Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Putting The 'I' In Champion

You know the phrase: there is no I in team.

TigerBlog married into the swimming community. Despite the inability to competently swim a lane or two, regardless of the countless lessons in his younger days (money well spent, Mom), TigerBlog is well aware of just how close your typical swim/dive team is. Mrs. Blog talks about the hours spent together, through morning and afternoon workouts, long meets, etc., and how it forms this chemistry on a swim/dive team that is often unmatched.

In 2006 and 2007, the Princeton men's swimming and diving team used that ultimate team-first philosophy to win the EISL (now the Ivy League, as Navy has moved to the Patriot League) titles. The former year, no Princeton competitors won a single individual or relay event. The latter, only Doug Lennox won (100 fly).

Last season, Princeton finished second to Harvard. Lennox won another individual event, the 200 fly, and qualified for the Puerto Rican Olympic team. He earned All-America honors and reached an NCAA championship final. And he came back this season talking only about a team goal -- regaining the league title. It seems to be the culture of the program, where the team goal far supersedes that of the individual.

But that doesn't mean one can't happen without the other.

Each competitor is allowed to compete in three individual events over the weekend, as well as four relays. Teams don't have to announce who will swim in what events during the week, so TigerBlog can only speculate. Lennox will certainly be a favorite in his events, especially both fly events, where he brings the best times this season into both the 100 and 200 events.

But Lennox has two titles to his name, so let's move to his two fellow tri-captains. Robert Griest and Will Schaffer (pictured) have done more than provide leadership throughout their years at Princeton. They've scored points. Quite a few, to be honest.

Griest is a distance specialist who has scored 220 individual points in his career (you get 32 points for first, 28 for second, 27 for third, etc.; there are also different point totals for making the consolation finals of the C-level finals). He has three second-, one third- and two fourth-place finishes in his career.

Schaffer is just behind Griest with 219 career points. In the last two years alone, he has finished (in order of event) second, fourth, fourth, second, third and second.

Depending on who swims in what events, both could enter the weekend with the top time in their respective event. Griest swam the fastest 1000 in the league (9:14.74) during the opening weekend of the season, while Schaffer's 200 IM of 1:48.39 would be the league's best if Lennox doesn't compete in the event. That certainly doesn't assure either of winning a title, but it doesn't hurt either.

Schaffer has had the unfortunate luck of swimming in the same events as 2008 Harvard graduate Geoff Rathgeber over the last three years; in each of Schaffer's trio of second-place finishes, it was Rathgeber who touched the wall first. Swimming is different than many sports, where you actually have a chance to defend the opposing team's best player; if swimmer A is faster than swimmer B and they both swim their best race, there is no box-and-one, cover two or left-wing lock defense to throw out there. Swimmer A will win.

TigerBlog feels confident that Griest and Schaffer, along with a host of talented classmates that include Easton Chen and Mike Carter, will be plenty happy to just end their careers with a third team title. No Princeton men's swimming or diving graduate has been able to say that since the Class of 1997.

But for competitors who have quietly given so much to a highly successful program, it would be nice to see them be Swimmer A on Team A during Year D.

The 2009 Ivy League Championships will be held this Thursday through Saturday at Princeton's DeNunzio Pool. All championship sessions will begin at 6 p.m.


Anonymous said...

Did the first-race disqualification in the women's Ivy title meet end up costing the women the championship, either because of the lost points (and improved finish of Harvard in that race) or because it disrupted team mojo?

Princeton OAC said...

No. Harvard ended up winning by about 250 points, and the relay was only an 80-point swing. So it definitely wasn't on points; as for mojo, Princeton actually had some really strong swims, especially Saturday. Princeton won the dual meet against Harvard because it won most of the events, but in a conference-meet format, the deeper team is favored. This season, the deeper team was Harvard, and the Crimson should be credited for that.