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House on the Hill: A Rivalry Swimming in Tradition

November 20, 2014

And you thought a Lafayette-Lehigh sporting event couldn’t get more exciting. Shame on you!

This year’s swimming meet between the backyard, Patriot League rivals on Friday, Nov. 21, will not only be at Lehman College in the Bronx, which features an eight-lane pool, but two Olympians will be on deck as honorary captains. Plus, Rowdy Gaines, a three-time Olympic Gold medalist and TV analyst for ESPN and NBC, will be on hand doing color commentary for the meet, which will be streamed live.

Brendan Hansen, Lafayette Honorary Captain

“It’s something that hasn’t been done before, and it’s a really neat opportunity,” Lafayette swimming and diving coach Jim Dailey said. “The kids are really excited, and when they’re excited, they swim fast. The buzz around it is really cool.”

The Leopards and Mountain Hawks  can thank Lafayette alum Greg Eggert '79 for providing each team with their respective honorary captains. Eggert, media officer for FINA, the international governing body of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming, managed to get Brendan Hansen and Melvin Steward to take part.

Hansen, who won three golds, a silver and two bronze medals combined at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, will be Team Lafayette. Stewart, owner of two golds and one bronze medal from the 1992 Olympics, will be Team Lehigh.

“It will be very inspiring to have [Hansen] around, especially as an honorary captain of our team,” said Lafayette senior co-captain and freestyler Megan Kaveney, who is on pace to graduate with her B.S. in psychology this May. “That’s very special.”

Lafayette alumnus James Kugel '13, who was a co-captain for Dailey in the 2012-13 season, hopes to be at this week’s big meet. He admits he would have loved to have had the opportunity to interact with an Olympic champion during his days as a Leopard.

“Those guys are legends,” said Kugel, who earned his B.S. in civil engineering. “Those role models that they were cheering for when they were young are now going to be there cheering for them. That’s a really cool, full-circle experience.”

Kaveney has her fingers crossed that she and her teammates will get the chance to get some tips from Hansen.

“I’m sure if we are talking as a team, if he has anything to say, I know the team will be all ears,” she said. “We’ll definitely soak in what he says. I think he’s very humble. He likes to work hard and win, but I don’t think he’s showy at all. People definitely have a lot of respect for him.”

"It's something that hasn't been done before, and it's a really neat opportunity. The kids are really excited, and when they're excited, they swim fast.

-- Jim Dailey

There’s added anticipation of Hansen’s presence for Dailey. Hansen’s brother, Sean, is a 2000 graduate of Lafayette and four-time Patriot League champion in the 400 breaststroke. Dailey was even at Sean’s wedding.

“The sibling rivalry goes so deep that they had a race to see who would have the first grandchild for their parents,” Dailey said.

Gaines will bring a wealth of swimming knowledge and loads of personality to the big meet. In addition to being a renowned masters swimmer now, Gaines is a U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member and a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He was an analyst at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London.

Although Kugel’s first choice is to be at the sold-out meet Friday (he does have a ticket) – it might be tough because it starts at 4 p.m. – he knows Gaines will make the experience of listening to it on the web memorable.

“I personally love Rowdy,” Kugel said. “When you’re watching the Olympics and other big swim events, he’s always very entertaining.”

Also upping the entertainment value will be the swimmers themselves. For the Leopards, it is their only true dual meet of the season. The rest of their meets are with two or three other teams.  Plus, the Lafayette swimmers will be shaved and tapered, something they’ve never done before when facing Lehigh.

Last year, the Leopards only tapered.

The new strategy, Dailey said, is likely to give his swimmers their fastest times of the season, and they will only be made quicker thanks to the adrenaline provided by their competitors and the atmosphere. Those times, he added, should help them have better seeds for the Patriot League Championship meet, which is Feb. 17 at Bucknell.

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill