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Spirited Tigers cap perfect Ivy season

Of all the obstacles facing the Princeton women's swim team at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet this weekend in Cambridge, Mass., no one thought that traffic would be one of them. Stuck in dense traffic in overly crowded Harvard Square minutes before the start of the meet, the majority of the Princeton team almost missed the opportunity to fire up its first swimmers of the day with their traditional pre-meet repertoire of loud and inspiring cheers.

But time was on their side, as the Tigers — in a noisy wave of orange and black — crashed upon the deck just in time for the first race. Their presence instantly flooded the pool deck with boundless energy, as the team overcame the first of many obstacles this weekend. Princeton (10-0 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) went on to dominating dual meet victories against Harvard (9-1, 6-1) and Yale (6-3-1, 3-2-1) by scores of 182-118 and 218-82, respectively. This completed a perfect conference season for the Tigers and clinched the Ivy League title for the second straight year.

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"There is just as much competition on deck to see who comes on deck with the most attitude, the most pride and translates that into their swims," senior captain Alyson Goodner said of Princeton's pre-meet exuberance.

The exciting atmosphere of the opening moments of the meet was crucial to the performances of the first two swims in the 1000-yard freestyle, which set the tone for the entire weekend. After a surprisingly solid swim by sophomore Cindy Herrick in the first heat, sophomore Valeria Kukla was given the harder task of swimming in a slower heat, with no one of comparable speed to race against.

"Teeter recognized what Val's strong points were and wanted to give her the necessary rest to swim the 200 free [later on that day]," Goodner said.

The final heat of 1000 free, where Kukla would have usually competed, did not take place until after a long warm-up and the first relay — one whole hour later.

With only the clock as her competition and her teammates yelling from the deck, Kukla put together an incredible 1000 free swim with a time of 10 minutes, 7.49 seconds, a new school record. She eventually went on to win the event an hour later, when the Crimson's Lovisa Gustafsson finished right behind her with a time of 10:08.34.

"The Harvard fans went crazy thinking [Lovisa] had won. But we were even louder and more crazier because we knew that Val's time was faster," senior captain Lindsay Grimm said.

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Later on, this strategy worked to perfection as Kukla propelled herself to a strong second-place finish in the 200 free with a time of 1:52.85, her personal best for the season. Gustaffson, most likely tired from swimming the 1000 free in a later heat, was touched out in her next race, the 200 fly, by freshman phenom Molly Seto, who placed first by less than half a second.

"Here, the team atmosphere is so loud and so boisterous, it's really easy to just get up and swim fast," Seto said.

Triple Crown

Seto directly followed this tight race with an even closer one. The very next women's event — the 50 free — saw Seto barely out-touch Eli sophomore Emily Grant (24.34) for first place in that event, with a winning time of 24.16. Seto rounded out her spectacular weekend with a victory in the 100 fly Saturday, making her the only swimmer all weekend to win all three of her events.

The rest of the meet was also full of gutsy performances just like Seto's. Sophomore Kate Conroy, who has been battling mononucleosis over the past month, pulled together victories in the 100 and 200 back. Sophomore Jennifer Macaulay recovered well from a discouraging swim Friday in the 100 breast by winning both the 200 individual medley and the 200 breast with times of 2:06.27 and 2:19.03, respectively.

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The tenacity displayed by the women's team this weekend bodes very well for the final challenge of the season, Ivy Championships Feb. 25-26 in Cambridge, Mass. Considering that many of the Tigers' top swimmers were not fully tapered and shaved for H-Y-Ps this weekend, the women's team should have only faster swims to look forward to in two-and-a-half weeks.

Ultimately, the Tigers hope to wrestle the ECAC title away from perennial champion Brown, which has prevented Princeton from winning the title since 1995.

"At the beginning of the year, the seniors set as our goal to take both of the banners down, not just one," said Goodner. "Everyone's more hungry, everybody wants more. I think there is no stopping us."

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