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Individual Recaps: Lisa Boyce and Nikki Larson, Abram Ayala, Michael Williams

All-America first-teamer senior Boyce and sophomore Larson represent Princeton at NCAA Championships

In her third trip to the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships, senior Lisa Boyce earned a first-team all-America selection in the 100 fly to cap off what has been one of Princeton swimming’s best-ever careers. The last two seasons have yielded for her Mid-Major all-America honors (2012) and an all-America honorable mention (2013).

While she holds the Ivy record in the 100 back (52.93) and has thrice won the event at the Ivy finals, Boyce’s ability to stand out in a variety of events makes her exemplary. The 2014 Ivy League Championships saw her win her astounding ninth individual conference title, as she took the 100 freestyle final with a time of 48.92.

In spite of not often racing in the event, and never at the Ivy or NCAA championship competition, Boyce saved her best for last in last Friday’s 100 fly finals. After posting a preliminary time of 51.57, good for fifth in the field, she came seventh in the final with a time of 51.66. Felicia Lee of Stanford, the event’s champion, posted a time of 50.89.

Boyce’s preliminary time equaled Yale grad Alex Forrester’s Ivy League record for the event. In addition to the butterfly, she raced in last Thursday’s 50 free and Saturday’s 100 free. The first freestyle event saw the Illinois-native Boyce earn a 24th place finish with a time of 22.30, while she tied for 40th place in the longer race with a time of 49.22. Worthy of note, California freshman and four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin placed third in the 100 yard freestyle final.

It is often considered a mark of a great athlete that she is able to apply her skills to a variety of competitions. When asked how she made the adjustment, Boyce pointed to her underwater-preferred style, which allows her to be competitive regardless of the particular stroke.

“A lot of my swimming is kicking underwater,” she explained. “I try to not ‘swim’ as much as possible, pretty much. So I’m able to translate that into a variety of races, which is helpful. Part of it also is that, mentally, I didn’t have a lot of expectations in that race because I didn’t really know what I could do there.”

With this season having concluded, Boyce has raced her last for Princeton. She commented on the emotional weight this has for her, looking back at a stupendous run.

“It was really weird to have that chapter come to an end,” she said. “It’s been such an important part of my life for the past four years that I’m not sure it’s completely set in yet. It did a little bit on Saturday and when I was traveling yesterday. Princeton swimming has meant the world to me, so it’s definitely kind of bittersweet to be done with that.”

When asked what achieving such success in her final year has meant, she responded, “This year I think was kind of different, considering it was in a brand new event for me. I kind of just went in without any expectations. Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it. But this year, I went in trying to do my best and have fun with it. With it being my last year, I was really focused on enjoying the moment and enjoying my last collegiate meet.”

A further mark of athletic accomplishment is the ability to blur the line between performance in practice and in high-level competition. Every coach or successful athlete will echo the refrain, “Practice like you play.”

Offering advice for her teammates who may compete at a national level, she began by saying, “Try not to overthink the race. Just stay in the moment. It’s important to take a step back and remember that this is the same thing we do in practice every day or in a dual meet. It’s just a little more flashy, I guess. It’s the same race every time.”

Boyce was not the lone Tiger to compete in Columbus over the weekend. Sophomore Nikki Larson had her first shot at the NCAA Championships, having qualified for the 100 and 200-yard butterfly races.

Competing in the 200 fly on Saturday, Larson posted an identical time of 1:58.73 to Virginia’s Alison Haulsee, tying her for 38th in the event. She also raced in Friday’s 100 fly — she held the Princeton record in the event for a period last year — a number of heats before Boyce. In the shorter race on Friday she recorded a time of 53.91, good for 53rd.

Boyce highlighted the benefits of being able to compete alongside a fellow Tiger.

“It was great having Nikki there,” she said. “I think that helped me a lot, especially for my 100 fly, because she was a couple of heats before me. So I got to stand behind the blocks and cheer for her. She and I were talking about it, and it’s not something that you can tell someone about — your first NCAA experience. You just have to experience it for yourself and get all the nerves out. So I think she was very excited. And it was really fun for me to be able to be there for her first one.”

What’s next for Boyce? The Princeton standout has competed as an individual amateur in a number of national competitions, including in Olympic trials.

“I’m gonna keep going, for a little bit,” she said of her future plans. “I’m not exactly sure where, yet. I haven’t exactly set up my summer training yet, but I’m completely committed to training through this summer. There are some selection meets for international teams, and then hopefully training for the next two years.”

In the midst of what has been an exceedingly busy stretch, Boyce concedes that her outlook will become more concrete after she finishes her thesis. Her concentration is English.

Sophomore Ayala gains experience as lone Tiger in NCAA Tournament

Sophomore 197-pounder Abram Ayala was the lone representative for Princeton wrestling at the NCAA Championships, which took place from March 20-22 in Oklahoma City. With a tough draw in his first match, Ayala took on fifth-seeded Kyven Gadson of Iowa State and fell by decision 6-1. In the first round of consolation matches, Ayala took down Marshall Haas of The Citadel in a tough 9-7 decision, but he ultimately lost in the second consolation round to Richard Perry of Bloomsburg. An upset in the championship draw sent Perry, the tournament’s sixth seed at 197 pounds, to the consolation bracket, where he defeated Ayala by major decision 14-6.

The past week ended a remarkable breakout season for Ayala, who went from winning just six matches during his freshman campaign to 27 matches during his sophomore season. Despite a relatively short lifespan in the NCAA Tournament, Ayala found places of both strength and improvement to bolster his offseason training.

“The trip was both humbling and encouraging,” Ayala said. “On the one hand, NCAAs were humbling because I saw that there were so many other athletes who were competing at or above my level. I thought that I had finally ‘arrived,’ but I realized that there were still many chinks in my armor.”

“However, the trip was also encouraging. I now see that I am close to the top. With a few more jumps, I can become the very best in the country. The jump I made between last year and this one was bigger than the jump I will have to make to win it all. If I stay hungry and continue to improve upon my strengths while eliminating my weaknesses, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to do great things. I’m grateful to my coaches, training partners and family for supporting me on this season’s journey, and I’m hopeful that the coming years will be even more exciting.”

Indoor championship run bolsters Williams’ goals for outdoor season

Despite the tough conditions and tougher competition, track senior Michael Williams hoped for a top eight showing at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

On Friday, March 14, he battled the high altitude environment and the nation’s top runners at the NCAA mile race in Albuquerque, N.M. He was the only athlete representing Princeton at this competition.

Placing sixth in his heat, he unfortunately missed the NCAA mile run finals by a heartbreaking three seconds. His time of 4:13.07 helped him to ultimately place 14th overall in a bittersweet conclusion.

“I ended up getting one more than I was ranked, which was pretty cool, but I was hoping to make all-America,” Williams said.

Although this race did not go quite as well as he would have liked, Williams is confident that the experience will help him going forward. “I got to race against some of the best collegiate runners so that was a lot of fun,” he says. “Running with those guys, I definitely can see where I could be as a runner.”

Williams considers breaking four minutes in the mile race at the Boston University Valentine Invitational to be the highlight of his indoor season. Not only was he only the fourth ever Princetonian to accomplish this incredible milestone, but in doing so, he also realized a personal dream.

“[Breaking four] was a huge moment for me, especially since I had been having a rough season thus far,” he explained. “That was one of my lifetime goals.”

As the spring outdoor track season begins, Williams aims to beat the school mile record, win the Ivy League title and achieve all-America in the outdoor competition. While he believes that reaching all of these goals will be difficult, he looks forward to the challenge. “After indoors, I definitely see my potential,” he said. “Instead of just being the best at meets, I want to be the best nationally.”

He also wants to enjoy his last season with the team. “I want to have a good influence on the younger guys,” he said. “It’s been cool to see them come along, and I think we all will do really well.”

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