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Caption: Members of the men's and women's swim team. Credit: Beverly Schafer, GoPrincetonTigers

This year’s Big Al Invitational for men’s and women’s swim and dive, one of the biggest early-season collegiate tournaments, is set to take place beginning Friday, Dec. 6.

Following a series of successful scrimmages and dual meets against Penn and Cornell, Big Al is the first championship meet of the season — or, in the words of head coach for the men’s team, Matt Crispino, “the first big test to see where we’re at and how we’re responding to our training.”

“Big Al has always been a focus meet for us. My expectations are for everybody to swim season bests and hopefully, lifetime bests as well. We’re not overly concerned with the team standings — obviously we would like to win, but winning the meet is secondary to making sure everybody gets the swims they need to get and makes good adjustments from session to session,” he added.

Bret Lundgaard, the head coach for the women’s team, shared similar sentiments.

“I always try to keep my expectations relatively consistent and just stay focused on what we can control, which is identifying ways to get better and incremental progress. With every meet, we identify particular issues, we address them, and then we go back to practice to correct them. With championship meets, I don’t want to change that focus too much.”

However, the road ahead is not necessarily a smooth one.

According to Crispino, perhaps the biggest area for potential improvement amongst his athletes “is the maintaining of high energy and engagement levels throughout longer meets.”

Big Al is six sessions in duration, which makes it all the more important that they keep their energy consistent, “as opposed to [the] meets against Penn and Cornell where we kind of had a lull in the middle.”

“I think our ability to come up with and execute a race plan had been lacking in our first couple of meets. A lot of [athletes] tend to depend on their talent to just get up there and race. It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just something that hasn’t been at the forefront of their minds in the past. That’s what we’ve been doing at practice every day, creating and honing specific plans to keep in mind, so that they go up to the block with a specific goal or tactic,” he added.

Lundgaard, on the other hand, is looking for more general improvement.

“Our fundamentals are solid, but there’s also a lot we need to work on, in terms of small things that will always be there for a swimmer to improve — things like turns, starts, underwater transitions into surface swimming. Those are all things we will continue to need to work on, but that’s not really a new surprise for us.”

Training for the winter season “has been brutally rigorous,” said Crispino, praising his team.

“I’ve asked the guys to push themselves beyond the brink of exhaustion and they have; they’ve trained really, really hard in anticipation of this meet.”

Both teams spent fall break in Florida for an annual training session, a much-needed break in scenery, as per Lundgaard.

“That trip is always wonderful for our women because we get to get away, and we’re in the sun, and we're swimming outside — and that always has a way of making everybody happy. We did this thing in Florida where we organized our team into a black and an orange group; we had a week of random competitions, and that really brought in a lot of enthusiasm into our practices.”

With the departure of the Class of 2019, both teams are looking to their first-year class to step up to the challenge. Their coaches have no reason to believe they will not; Lundgaard said of his first-years, “They’ve brought some energy, enthusiasm and good competitiveness, and I think that’s really helped us. Simultaneously, I think our veterans have accepted them into the fold really quickly, and that’s allowed us to have a good competitive identity early so far this year.”

Meanwhile, Crispino called his first-year swimmers and divers ‘fantastic’. “They’ve adjusted really well, and I’m excited about the class. There’s a few standouts in the group that I think are going to be major contributors this year, both at the Ivy League and the national level.”

With successful scrimmages and exhaustive training behind them, the Tigers are ready to come out on top. “Big Al will give us a lot of information,” said Lundgaard, “and honestly, that’s important because it’s the last bit of information we’re going to get before we take on HYP and the Ivies.”

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