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Swimmers Ben LaClair and Nick Whitcomb support and sharpen each other

  • Brooke Podsiadlo, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 200-yard freestyle during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ruby Gottlieb, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 200-yard individual medley during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nathan Dragon, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 200-yard freestyle during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben LaClair, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 200-yard individual medley during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Abbie Murphy, of Northampton, enjoys her win in the 50-yard freestyle during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Oliver Schalet, of Northampton, swims to a second place in the 200-yard individual medley during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nick Whitcomb, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 100-yard butterfly during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ruby Gottlieb, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 100-yard butterfly during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Abbie Murphy, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 500-yard freestyle during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nathan Dragon, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 500-yard freestyle during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben LaClair, of Belchertown, left, shakes hands with Brendan McBride, of Northampton, after earning a first place and a pool record in the 100-yard freestyle during a meet at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben LaClair, of Belchertown, swims to a first place and a pool record in the 100-yard freestyle during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday. Visit gazettenet.com for more photos. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eva Gerstle, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 100-yard freestyle during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nicole Beaumont, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 100-yard backstroke during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Oliver Schalet, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 100-yard breaststroke during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nick Whitcomb, of Northampton, swims to a first place in the 100-yard backstroke during a meet against Belchertown at JFK Middle School, Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wiktoria Kaczor, of Belchertown, swims to a first place in the 100-yard breaststroke during a meet against Northampton at JFK Middle School, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@kylegrbwsk
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Belchertown’s Ben LaClair hit the touch pad to finish the 100-yard freestyle and immediately looked up at the scoreboard.

It read 48.1 seconds. LaClair turned his head, watched the other swimmers finish and received a thumbs-up from Northampton’s Nick Whitcomb, confirming he broke the pool record.

The previous record stood since Jan. 18, 2010, when Longmeadow’s Matthew Grippo went 48.66.

Whitcomb encouraged LaClair during the race. He was hoping LaClair would break the record. They’ve known each other for years and regularly support each other when they’re at the same meets.

“It’s great to see him come to a meet and just tear it up,” Whitcomb said. “He marked his territory.”

LaClair didn’t come to Tuesday’s dual meet at JFK Middle School gunning for the record. He swam the 200 individual medley along with the 100, both nontraditional events for him. LaClair is the defending Division 2 state champion in the 500 freestyle. He won that event and the 200 at last year’s Western Massachusetts championships.

“I’ll swim wherever Coach (Nick Provost) needs me,” LaClair said.

Northampton girls coach Jacob Wingfield previously coached LaClair when he swam for Northampton Area Swimming as a youth. Wingfield noticed LaClair was entered in the 100 at the start of the meet and told him he could break the record.

LaClair hoped to race Northampton senior Quinn Nortonsmith, but he was sick and didn’t attend the meet.

“I was already in the event, so I just went for (the record),” LaClair said.

It wasn’t even the fastest LaClair has ever swam the 100-yard freestyle. He’s done it in 46.8 seconds, so he was confident he could finish under 48.6.

“That I’m able to challenge him and say ‘break our pool record,’ and he’s somebody that can do that, it’s really impressive,” Wingfield said.

Wingfield and Whitcomb congratulated LaClair after he exited the pool. Because they swim such dissimilar events, LaClair and Whitcomb never developed a rivalry in a traditional sense.

“I try and be just as good in my events as he is in his, make sure I’m at that same caliber as him,” LaClair said.

They rely on each other for motivation leading up to sectional and state championship meets. Entering the week, they each hold the fastest time in the Pioneer Valley in three events. But they can only swim two individual events at the championship meets. LaClair will race the 200 and the 500. He is a two-time sectional champion in the 200 and three-time champ in the 500.

Whitcomb has won the last three sectional 100 backstroke titles and is a back-to-back state champion in the event.

They are confident in their abilities at the sectional level, so they look to each other for motivation to keep pushing.

“Ever since freshman year I’ve set my bar to where he has gone,” Whitcomb said. “At the championship meets I get to see him swim and do what he does, and now it’s my turn to step up and do that.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.