Swimming and diving bests Big Red, Big Green at Ivies

Briana Borgolini ’14 takes title in 200-yard breaststroke as Brown finishes sixth in league

Sports Staff Writer
Monday, February 24, 2014

The women’s swimming and diving team took to the pool for the Ivy League Championships over the weekend, competing at home in the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center. Familiar waters seemed to lend Brown an edge, as the Bears defeated Cornell and Dartmouth to finish sixth overall — an improvement of one place over their 2013 ranking.

The result represented a step forward for the team, which has languished in seventh or eighth position at the championships for the past five seasons.

“It’s a good move upward. I’m very proud of the women,” said Head Coach Peter Brown. “It’s always nice to come back and beat Cornell in the team race.”

Bruno ended the competition with 792.5 points, coming in behind fifth-place Penn’s total of 882. The last time the Bears approached this level of scoring was in 2007, Brown said, when the team totaled 811 points. This year, Harvard emerged victorious over runner-up Princeton, with the Crimson outscoring the Tigers 1,409 to 1,384.

During the regular season, Bruno had defeated neither Cornell nor Dartmouth outright. The weekend of Dec. 6, the Bears tied Dartmouth for third place at the Princeton Invitational. On Feb. 1, Brown fell to Cornell, 166-134, in a dual meet in Ithaca, N.Y.

The highest-achieving swimmer for the Bears this weekend was Briana Borgolini ’14, who notched a first-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke. Having earned runner-up status in that event last year, Borgolini was poised to contend for individual gold this time around.

The competition began auspiciously for Borgolini. The senior sailed through the preliminary round of the 200 breast with the fastest time of the day, earning an NCAA B cut — a provisional qualifying standard for the NCAA championship meet — and establishing herself as the woman to beat in the process. She duplicated her winning ways in the final, reaching the pool wall half a second ahead of Harvard’s Stephanie Farrell.

With her victory, Borgolini inscribed her name on the annals of Ivy League history. “It’s been about 10 years since we’ve won an individual title,” Brown said. “It carries a lot of weight for the program.”

In addition to winning the 200 breast, Borgolini logged a second-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. This marked the third time Borgolini has earned runner-up status in the event at the conference meet.

The path Borgolini traveled to her success was fraught with difficulty. Brown said the veteran swimmer had to contend with a heavy academic load in the fall. “She hardly competed all fall because she had so much going on with school. To her credit, she battled through it and made it happen,” he said.

Borgolini was not the only Bear who shone in spite of adversity. The team’s top diver, Rachel Speakman ’16, had to surmount significant obstacles in order to even compete at the championships.

Last summer, Speakman underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in her back. Following that procedure, she began a long process of rehabilitation designed to restore her competitive form.

The sophomore also struggled with a condition that has plagued her since high school: vertigo, a problem with inner-ear calcium deposits that upsets one’s senses of balance and direction. Bouts of vertigo manifested in the month leading up to the championships, and Speakman sometimes could not practice for days at a stretch. Speakman said that, though she “found ways to adapt” to her circumstances, there was still some doubt as to whether she would be able to take part in the Ivy meet.

But when it came time to dive, Speakman delivered. She was the only entrant from Brown to make the final of the 1-meter event, where she went on to place sixth. This result was a major improvement on her 13th-place finish in 2013.

“Because Rachel’s such a tough girl, she never really let on that she was having these problems,” said co-captain Kate Dillione ’15. “At Ivies, she really stepped up and put the team’s needs above her own health — which is the mark of a true, true competitor.”

Inspired by Speakman’s strong showing, her teammates upped their own games. Brown’s most decorated underclassman was Megan Viohl ’17, who served as the Bears’ standard-bearer in the distance events. Viohl placed fifth overall in both the 1,000-yard freestyle and the 1,650-yard freestyle, setting school records in each event. Viohl also earned an NCAA B cut for her swim in the 1,650 free.

“We’re very lucky we have a distance swimmer like (Viohl) who can step up whenever we need her,” Dillione said. “It’s great that she’s so motivated as a (first-year). It bodes well for the future of Brown swimming.”

Dillione displayed great strength and versatility as a sprint swimmer. She qualified for the fastest heats in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle — a triple feat she has never before accomplished. The junior’s best result came in the 200 free, where she finished fifth out of eight.

Brown said it is unclear whether any of the team’s swimmers who have earned NCAA B cuts will qualify to compete in the NCAA Championships. Only a handful of the nation’s top competitors in each event receive invitations to that meet, and the selection process is murkier for swimmers who have not achieved the A-standard. Brown said that he would know soon if any Bears will continue into the postseason.

For her part, Dillione was focused on the Bears’ positive outcome within the conference. “We’re slowing moving back up to the top of the Ivy League,” she said. “This is a great transition period for Brown swimming.”

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