Men’s swimming and diving posted sounding victories over Army, Penn, and Yale to open its season. Columbia won 179-121 and set a pool record against Penn, before triumphing over Yale 172-128.
Against Penn, senior Nian-Guo Liu set a new Uris Pool record in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:36.95, almost four seconds ahead of second place. After Penn won the 3-meter dive, came second in the 200-medley, and earned the top four finishes in the 1000-yard freestyle, Liu’s win allowed Columbia to regain some energy. From then on, the Lions dominated across contests, placing first in nine of the final 13 events to carry a commanding victory.
Against Yale, which finished fifth and just one spot behind Columbia in the 2019 Men’s Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships, the Lions put together a solid team effort, placing first in 10 of the 16 events. They built on the performance of first-year Ray Yang in the 200-yard butterfly, who trailed for the first seven laps of the race but put on a fantastic sprint to win the race by one-tenth of a second. The bleachers erupted with cheers as Yang touched the wall, looked up to see his time, and then punched the water triumphantly.
Yang is one of 11 first-years on the team, a group that proved critical for the Lions in the meet. Head coach Jim Bolster said that the Light Blue always relies on strong performances from the incoming recruits.
“They make a difference every year,” Bolster said. “There’s no sitting period and hoping they develop. Boom, right away, they stepped up.”
The crowd stayed engaged during the next event, the 50-yard freestyle, which featured a milestone win for junior Albert Gwo. Gwo finished in 19.98 seconds, the first sub-20-second time for Columbia in the regular season. Bolster referred to the win as a pivotal moment, as it concluded the first half of the meet, letting the Lions enter the the break on a positive note.
“That was a really nice boost,” Bolster said. “I’d never seen anybody break 20 in a dual meet in this pool, so I was really pleased for Albert. I know that’s something he’s worked really hard to do. … He had a good day.”
Gwo was 0.01 seconds off the pool record, ultimately recording wins in the 200-yard medley relay and the 100-yard freestyle. However, he remained unsatisfied with his performance.
“I had a lot of details that I needed to focus on, and unfortunately I missed a lot,” Gwo said of his record-breaking swim. “The dive, I was the last one off the blocks; the turn, I did a two-part turn instead of a one-part turn; and the finish, I took an extra stroke. It just means more work to be honest.”
The team’s however, will have to give extra attention in order to maintain last season’s diving performance. With junior Jonathan Suckow gone for the season to train for the Olympics, the Lions lost what Bolster called “a guaranteed win” in diving. In fact, entering the Yale meet against standout Bulldog junior Christian DeVol, Bolster worried that Columbia would get blown out of the water.
“I sort of figured that there was a chance they could go 1-2-3 on both boards, which would put us in a 32-to-6 hole, so we had to build a lineup around that,” Bolster said.
However, first-year Ben Blizard stepped up, earning a second-place finish on the 1-meter and a third-place finish on the 3-meter dive. In the end, Bolster said diving performed “very well,” given the circumstances.
But the commanding 172-128 victory is not the end of the story for swimming and diving, with the make-or-break conference meet at the end of the season that will ultimately determine the championship. Penn and Yale both referenced the Ivy championship in their chants after the respective meets ended, cheering “see you at Ivies” to the Lions.
“That was not necessarily very creative,” Bolster said, but accurate nonetheless.
“What’s most important is what happens at the end of the year,” Bolster said. “But [at dual meets] you get a good indication of where teams’ strengths lie, and it’s nice to see how they respond to a little bit of intensity, and I liked the way our kids responded. So that should give them a lot of confidence, but that’s not a guarantee.”
The Lions will look to respond to an intense Harvard squad this Friday, Nov. 22. They will take on 2019’s Ivy League Champions at Uris Pool at 5 p.m.