Last year, the men's swimming team was sorely disappointed in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, losing to both rivals by over 60 points. This loss was even tougher because the Tigers had enjoyed great success in the H-Y-Ps the previous two years.
Senior captains Jamie Holder, Matt Janson and Dan Russell remember a stunning victory over a more talented Harvard team their freshman year. They also remember repeating that feat in their second collegiate season. But heading into the trio's final H-Y-P meet this weekend, the seniors look to erase the bad memories of last year's loss and regain the glory of years past at Harvard's own pool in Cambridge, Mass."
"It's really important for this weekend to convey the level of intensity to the freshmen," Janson said. "We have a great rivalry with Harvard, and it's one of the best rivalries in college sports. It's going to be the most exciting day of their lives." He later added, "One thing we hate is Harvard."
Captains must lead by example and by sharing their experiences and lessons of previous competitions with underclassmen. They also play an important role in getting an entire team to perform its best on the day of the meet.
It is critical for the Tigers to meld together and rise to a new level for success at the H-Y-Ps. All three of the captains mentioned that their greatest Princeton swimming experiences came at the double-dual meet.
"Probably my best experience was at H-Y-Ps our freshman year, when Harvard had a tremendous team, and we beat them 83-80. That was just really incredible, and I was happy just to be a part of that," said Holder, who swims the 50, 100 and 200 free.
Not only do the three captains work together to lead the Tigers, but the teammates and friends have also shared a room for the last two years. Russell, who swims the 100-meter breaststroke, 100 backstroke and the 50 and 100 freestyle, and Janson, who competes in the 100, 200 and 500 free, met before college. "We've known each other since we were about ten years old, living in New Jersey," Janson said.
All three seniors have improved since enrolling at Princeton en route to their captainships, but each has had to overcome his own problems to reach his potential.
"My freshman year, my times were right around the ones from high school, but I really improved my sophomore year," Holder said. "Last year, I was sick at Easterns — but I kind of think that I like the even years."
Likewise, Russell also dealt with illnesses to improve to his current level of performance.
"I was sick most of my freshman year, and I don't think that I trained well enough during my sophomore year, but I have improved on that and my endurance has gotten much better," Russell said. He also credited much of his improvement "to upperclassmen that I watched the last couple of years."
While Janson didn't have to fight off sickness during his college career, he did have to fight his way through the Tigers' ranks.
"I probably wasn't one of the top recruits coming in, but I managed to make the traveling team my freshman year, and I've improved steadily since then," Janson said. "One thing about being on a team like this, you feed off the intensity of all of your teammates, and you learn to train harder and race faster — and to hate Harvard more."
All three of the seniors claim that coach Rob Orr and experienced older teammates have facilitated their improvement as swimmers.
"Rob Orr is probably the ideal coach for the college situation, especially at a place like this," Janson said. "He runs a laid-back program and makes sure that everyone balances academics, athletics, and social activities. But he also lays down the level of intensity that we need and is a great motivator."
Now Holder, Janson and Russell are the leaders of their team, and they must relate what they have learned from previous classes and coaches to guide the younger swimmers. The seniors have the additional demand as captains of coordinating the sheer logistics of a team of over 50 men.
"One thing that makes [leading the swimming team] a little harder is that we have such a huge team," Russell said. "We have all different levels and abilities, different levels of intensity, and so many personalities. That makes it harder to organize everyone to go in the same direction."
The Tigers have a sense of community on the team, and claim that their closeness improves their performances in the pool.
"It's sort of like a big family," Holder added. "You've got big brothers and stuff. There are a lot of graduated swimmers who come back for H-Y-Ps, and you want to swim well for your family."
Finally, Janson said, "Did we mention that we hate Harvard?"