Tuesday, April 29, 2014
SPRINGFIELD — A year after holding its breath through the entire meet, the Northampton girls swim team breezed through the Western Massachusetts Swimming and Diving Championship to defend its title at Springfield College on Sunday.
The Blue Devils repeated as champions after accumulating 312 points to runner-up Westfield’s 251.50.
“It’s really exciting that we were able to win by more than one point because last year was very stressful,” Northampton junior Kerry Fleming said. “We’re a team that works really well together. We all know our strengths and weaknesses so I think we all were able to do our best and was able to win.”
Northampton coach Jim Hirtle said his team’s lack of nerves and his careful event selection was the biggest difference between winning the two titles.
“I think just the extra year of experience really helped us,” he said. “They didn’t get as flustered this year. ... I think we swam better and given how the events broke down with Erin (Voss), (Easthampton’s) Jessica (Harper) and (Longmeadow’s) Jerrica (Li) being separate, it left the door open.”
The team title came on the heals of Katie Helly’s win at Friday’s diving competition, which contributed 20 points on Sunday.
Voss led Hamp to three first-place finishes as the Blue Devils medaled in 10-of-11 events.
Northampton opened the meet with a quick 40 points, winning the 200 medley relay in 1 minute, 53.69 seconds. It wasn’t an easy race as it caught and passed Westfield (second, 1:53.89) on the final leg.
Voss, a member of the medley relay team, immediately returned to the pool for the 200 free, which she won in 1:51.16. Teammate Kerry Fleming took fifth (1:59.59). Voss grabbed her third top prize in the 100 backstroke, winning in 56.88 to set a meet record.
“I didn’t really think about the meet record,” she said. “Mentally you’ve got to go out and race. You can’t have any bad thoughts in your head. You just have to go out there and go for it.”
Maela Whitcomb took second in the 200 medley behind Li (2:03.63). Her 2:14.81 was a personal best that couldn’t have come in a better meet, she said.
“I had a really great IM,” Whitcomb said. “I’ve been working toward the IM all season and it was good. The (long) suit obviously (helped), and I got to race some of my friends.”
Whitcomb also added a fifth-place finish in the 100 back, and combined with Lilly Etlinger, Fleming and Voss to propel the 400 relay to a second-place finish in 3:44.47, behind Longmeadow (3:44.03). Belchertown’s Audra Hale, Haley Synan, Samantha Synan and Bryanna Veroneau finished third, 3:48.30.
Hirtle said one of the more impressive Blue Devil races was by Erica Dean, who sneaked onto the podium in the 500 free from a slower heat. Dean was seeded second in Heat 3 and won it in 5:31.84 to place sixth overall.
“We had a lot of people stepping up and contributing big. A lot of improvement on swims, which I didn’t expect,” Hirtle said. “Erica Dean in the 500 freestyle chopped off eight seconds, very great swim.”
The 200 free relay took fourth (1:45.04) as did Maggie Miller (26.03) in the 50 free. She also earned sixth in the 100 free (56.72).
Kaitlin Travers rounded out the team’s medalists with a fifth in the 100 fly (1:02.19).
“I’m pumped up,” Hirtle said. “We had a very nice team victory.”
Belchertown placed fourth with 220 points behind Veroneau, who was seeded third in the 100 free, but swam to a first-place finish in 54.01 ahead of Minnechaug’s Lauren Quinn (second, 54.20) and Northampton’s Fleming (third, 54.34).
“I’ve kind of been waiting for that for four years, waiting for my chance to be able to win and I worked really hard this year,” Veroneau said. “I didn’t even look up at the board. I turned and saw my family in the stands and my teammates cheering and that’s how I knew that I won. ... I feel like every swimmer in Western Mass. has that goal, like ‘I want to be the best,’ and for four years that’s what I wanted.”
Veroneau rounded out the day with a third-place finish in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.54.
In the 200 medley, Hale (2:18.21) took fourth for the Orioles.
With two wins, Easthampton’s Jessica Harper did not disappoint in her final sectional tournament for the Eagles, who cracked the top 10 with a ninth-place finish (101.5 points).
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I love my team and can’t imagine not coming back.”
After winning the 50 free in 24.23 seconds, Harper returned to the pool and faced a challenge in the 100 fly. Minnechaug’s Quinn kept pace and pulled within a hands length on the final stretch. Harper hit the wall first, winning in 57.87 seconds. Quinn followed at 58.02.
“That made me nervous,” Harper said. “(In the 50 free,) I got a good push and (rode the) glide.”
Kristyn Popowski took third (1:00.29) in the 100 fly and won the 500 free by half a pool’s length in 5:04.32 for 10th-place Holyoke Catholic (82 points).
South Hadley’s Mackenzie Werenski earned two fifth-place finishes, in the 200 medley (2:19.14) and 500 free (5:28.48). The Tigers finished 11th with 72 points.
Amherst placed sixth with 169 points. The Hurricanes’ 400 free relay team of Joslyn Sullivan. Ella Douglas, Corey Gerber-Dolan and Sadie Logan placed fifth. Gerber-Dolan (26.26) also finished sixth in the 50 free.
Sarah Moomaw can be reached at email@example.com.