Mid-season Reactions – Lions Looking Strong (1/2)

This past weekend the Columbia Men’s Swimming and Diving team took down the now 2-5 Brown Bears 166-134, before they were snowed-in up in Providence by Winter Storm Jonas.  For Columbia, this marked their third consecutive win and maintained an undefeated 2016 through the first three meets (Cornell, Bucknell, Brown).

While the road ahead pits Columbia against a tough opponent in Navy and reigning Ivy League Champion Princeton it is important that the Lions enjoy their success and take heart in their performances.

Columbia has been a perennial force in the Ivy League chase pack – Harvard and Princeton have dominated the league for so long that for them duel-meet losses are like unicorns.  Columbia, Penn and Yale typically are in the hunt for an end-of-season third place finish with the greater aspiration being to assemble a perfect team and crack the top two come late February.

The fall of 2015 saw both Yale and especially Penn deliver strong-handed defeats to the lions, with the Qualers in particular relying on more than just one or two high-power individuals. Penn has two sub-20-second 50 freestylers this season in Eric Shultz and Thomas Dillinger, the top two 200-breaststroke swims from Robert Thomas and Cole Hurwitz, and the top two mile swims as well from Chris Swanson and Alex Peterson. Their squad is replete with impressive times that could win most duel meets, and often another strong swimmer waiting right behind – Ivy’s should be interesting.

Year to Date
After starting the season looking a little off-beat in a nail-biter of a loss to Army (153-143), the Lions faced the aforementioned Penn squad, a ready-to-roll Yale team, and your typical Harvard line-up, sending the boys from New York City on training trip 0-4 for the first time in years.  Needless to say the team needed a win.

After strong showings to defeat Cornell at Homecoming and Bucknell, the next day on the road, the win over Brown is more than just a tally in the win column – it’s a moral victory. More importantly, it showcased some strong swims the team will need going forward.

Summing it Up
What’s the good news as we look forward to Navy (which will be SCM so please excuse references to yards times below)? Today I’ll bring you through the first half, up to the 1m Dive, examining last week’s meet and forecasting the storm in Annapolis:

200 Medley Relay – Columbia managed a win with a 1:32.36 (splits unavailable) over Brown.  The Lions have pulled out a few close races in this event this year, however their season-best (1:31.43), as fast as it sounds, ranks 8/8 in the Ivy League (it’s a Brave New World). Navy, despite dropping an impressive 1:27 to beat-up on Army earlier this year, is typically a 1:30 in season, so the boys in blue will have to be looking pretty sharp to nab this victory.

1000 Free – Columbia has been strong in the 1000 all year, featuring two freshmen (Brian Tsau and Eric Ng) under 9:30 for several meets, including Brown where they finished 1-3.  Navy’s top man, Alex Nickell, has posted a 9:02 at Army-Navy, and the Midshipmen have four swimmers under 9:20 this season, but typical duel-meet times for them make this a competitive race.

200 Free – Columbia went 1-2 over Brown with Nikita Bondarenko and Michal Zyla both breaking 1:41, a vast improvement for both since their season-opening swims against Army.  Navy may have 7 (yes seven) swimmers under their mark this season, but between them and junior Terry Li the Lions could have a top swim of 1:39 which is always in the mix for the win.

100 Back – Senior and former Columbia record-holder Omar Arafa had a tough fall returning from a 3-year hiatus, but his 100 back at Brown was his best this season clocking in at 50.6 to beat out Brown’s top 3 in an important win. Navy’s David Carlson has gone 47 against Army, but is more of a week-to-week 49.  Improving Columbia’s depth in the 100 back will be a key move, and sophomore Zach Thomas (52.3 vs Yale) must continue to fashion himself into a duel-meet threat as perhaps next season’s top returning competitor.

100 Breast – Columbia’s Jae Park also held back a tide of Brown swimmers by winning with his 56.4 last weekend. Brown 2-3-4-ed the event to keep back Forrest Davis and Jack Smith (both 57 swimmers in season). Navy enjoys the talents of Marlin Brutkiewicz, who, since swimming a 55.0 back at 2013 Juniors, found his groove again, put up a career-best 54.0 at Patriot League Finals last spring and has proceeded to annihilate that in season this year with a 53.9 at the Nike Cup and a 52.9 against Army!  Behind him Morgan de Jong can throw down a rested 54, but it’s hard to say where Navy’s breaststroke corps will land against the Lions. Park (whose 55.3 at Princeton Invite out-matched his Ivy’s time from last season) should have a chance at second or better.

200 Fly – Brown has always been good at the 200 fly; the Bruno’s Riley Springman may not be Tommy Glenn (yet) but he was good for a 1:48 in season.  Expect him to drop at Ivy’s and be a consistent threat in duel meets.  With no Quinns or Jakls in light blue, the freshman Shane Brett had to submit his season-best 1:51.4 to grab 2nd for Columbia and break up Brown’s top 3.  Navy’s top man, Jon Debaugh, has clocked in a couple 1:44s this year, and while he won’t be in top form against Columbia the equivalent of a sub-1:50 time is almost guaranteed.

50 Free – Brown’s Jack Nee produced a 20.66 to touch out Columbia’s Kevin Frifeldt last week.  The lions have a few 21-low guys, but only Frifeldt is consistently breaking 21. Navy is similarly structured, with Michael Bundas being their top man.  This makes not just the 50 but also the 200-free relay highly anticipated races. Seniors Codi Saunders, Christian Vivadelli, Junior Terry Li, and Sophomore Joe Shepley could all have big days in sprint events, but so far this season none of them has cracked the Ivy League top-50 (sorry Codi and Terry – #s 51&52!).

1m Dive – Sophomore Jayden Pantel has been nothing short of spectacular.  In an event where mistakes happen and consistency can be elusive, Pantel has posted such an array of impressive performances that it’s hard not to consider him a favorite. His 333-point performance was enough to nab first at Brown, and would take the top spot at most meets (Harvard’s David Pfeifer and Princeton’s David Makarewicz are both tough opponents, though Pantel is undefeated so far this season). Dominant as he is on 1m, his strength and most stunning routine is certainly on the 3m board.  Freshman Kevin Fulton has scored consistently in the high-200s this season which, depending on the day, could land him 4th or even 3rd against Navy. The Midshipmen’s top diver Nate Belch has shown a score of 332 so he certainly can’t be counted out as a true contender for 1st.

Later this week I’ll run through the second (and third) halves, recapping Brown and looking forward to this weekend.




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