Northampton girls win Western Massachusetts swim title; Meriza Werenski finishes career 8-0
WESTFIELD — Meriza Werenski’s final Western Massachusetts Swimming Championship Meet was unlike her previous three, except for her domination of the event.
The Holyoke Catholic senior and South Hadley resident won her seventh and eighth all-time individual WMass titles with first-place finishes in the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 6.10 seconds) and the 100 breaststroke (1:06.11) Monday night at Westfield High School.
“For me, it isn’t about winning, it’s about the times. I really go after my times and personal bests,” said Werenski, who was honored with the High Point Award given annually to the senior with the most career points scored at the meet. “I felt pretty good. My times were faster than everything else in the season.”
In the team competition, Northampton edged defending Westfield 348-347 for its first title since 2008.
“In some ways it is nice because it is a fresh group of girls,” Blue Devils coach Jim Hirtle said. “You don’t have a feeling like this is our legacy. It shows the program can do this. The kids come in at the right time and we can do this.”
The championship was not a sanctioned MIAA event as all sectional meets, originally scheduled for Saturday, were cancelled and not rescheduled. After much discussion and debate — and a Twitter outcry that went viral and was mentioned by numerous Olympic gold medalists — western Mass. got clearance from the governing body to hold an unofficial event. The boys meet is Tuesday at Chicopee High School at 5 p.m.
Monday’s meet was equal parts intense competition and celebration of the swimming community, with coaches and athletic directors pitching in to help run the event under Mike Roy, the Minnechaug athletic director.
“The energy is just phenomenal,” South Hadley coach Tara Cole said. “The girls are so excited and I’m sure the boys meet will be just as full of energy. So many people pulled together so this could happen for our kids. It just goes to show you what people can do when you are willing to stick your neck out for what is right.”
There also was a last second addition of medals for the top eight places, as Dinn Bros. Trophies turned around a big order in just a few hours Monday. The MIAA awards weren’t available because the event wasn’t sanctioned.
Having the medals “is huge,” Hirtle said. “The kids know what their times are and their ultimate reward is their time, but to be able to go home with a medal, the kids deserve that recognition.”
During the meet, the MIAA released a statement announcing that all athletes who qualified for their sectional meets would be able to race at the state championship meets. It was a change from the organization’s prior stance that swimmers would only be able to compete at states if they had reached the state qualifying number.
“There will be many more entries now,” Roy said. “It came from a lot of ADs and principals from our area and other areas who were voicing some concerns. We got to the point where we weren’t complaining about the decision, but asking if we could rectify it this way. I think that got the ball rolling down there. I know they were talking about this for days just like we were. In the end, I think they made the right decision. This is an unprecedented event, all from top to bottom. I think they made the right decision and I know the kids here were ecstatic when they found out today.”
The battle for the team title went back and forth between the Blue Devils and Bombers throughout the evening and Westfield led by seven points heading into the last event, the 400 relay. Northampton entered the relay needing to win the race and have Westfield finish third or worse in order to win.
The team of Maela Whitcomb, Miranda Wingfield, Kerry Fleming and Erin Voss posted a time of 3:41.23 for first and watched as Longmeadow’s Jerrica Li beat Westfield’s Hope Walsh down the stretch for second place.
“I knew I had it going into my leg, but I was worried about Westfield getting second,” said Voss, who also earned second-place finishes in the 200 freestyle (1:55.76) and the 500 freestyle (5:05.59). “I was happy with (my overall performance). It was exciting and I’m really glad that we won.”
In such a close meet, every point mattered, including the diving performances by Northampton on Thursday, back when it seemed that there wouldn’t even be a WMass swimming meet. In that event, Abbie Crescitelli took first place for the Blue Devils, while Katie Helly (fifth) and Vicky Miller (10th) also finished in the top 10.
“If our divers hadn’t stepped up the way they did, we wouldn’t be here,” Hirtle said.
The Blue Devils took third in the 200 free relay. Fleming (100 freestyle, 55.92), Kaitlin Travers (100 breaststroke, 1:12.72) and the 200 IM relay team of Jamie Yurgielewicz, Travers, Stephanie Jordan and Wingfield (2:00.10) each contributed a fourth-place finish. Wingfield was fifth in the 500 freestyle (5:18.12).
Werenski dominated both of her individual events and finished 8-0 at WMass. She has five state titles heading into this weekend’s state meet at Springfield College.
“It’s really weird because it seems like yesterday that it was freshman year and now it is senior year,” said Werenski, who will swim at UMass next year.. “Time flies. It is crazy, but it’s been a really good four years and it has been a lot of fun.”
Another two-time defending WMass champion, Easthampton’s Jessica Harper, had to settle for one title this year. The junior was outtouched by Longmeadow star freshman Jerrica Li in the 100 free, 51.12 to 51.92, but bounced back to break her own meet record in the 100 backstroke (57.53). Her old mark was 57.79.
“I can’t even be mad that I didn’t win the 100. That was a great time for both of us. I’m happy with both of my events. That is such a good time for me. I’ve been trying to break 53 (seconds) for the longest time, so I was really happy with the time.”
Werenski wasn’t the only Gael to win a title. Delaney Dyjak won her second straight 50 freestyle championship (24.79 seconds), while Kristyn Popowski took the 500 free (5:05.28).
“There was a lot more pressure having to defend the title,” said Dyjak, who lives in Ludlow. “There’s the pressure to maintain what you did and them top it. … I knew it was going to be a tough race.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/GazetteHS
Western Massachusetts Girls Swimming Championships
Monday at Westfield High School
1. Northampton, 348
2. Westfield, 347
3. Minnechaug, 261
4. Longmeadow, 254
5. Holyoke Catholic, 180
6. South Hadley, 148
7. Belchertown, 141
12. Easthampton, 69
Winner and Locals in Top 16
200-yard medley relay
1. Minnechaug, 1:52.29
3. Holyoke Catholic (Anna Desimone, Meriza Werenski, Kristyn Popowski, Delaney Dyjak), 1:52.48
4. Northampton (Jamie Yurgielewicz, Kaitlin Travers, Stephanie Jordan, Miranda Wingfield), 2:00.10
6. South Hadley (Cailey Newton, Mackenzie Werenski, Sabree Thomas, Shannon Mitchell), 2:01.38
7. Belchertown (Claire Nauman, Julia Maloof, Helen Hale, Bryanna Veroneau), 2:03.46
12. Easthampton (Katie Vanasse, Kelly Boisjolie, Jessica Harper, Jessica Connor), 2:11.73
1. Jerrica Li (Longmeadow), 1:51.09
2. Erin Voss (Northampton), 1:55.76
6. Miranda Wingfield (Northampton), 1:59.31
7. Kerry Fleming (Northampton), 2:00.73
9. Mackenzie Werenski (South Hadley), 2:02.83
12. Riley Synan (Belchertown), 2:08.24
1. Meriza Werenski (Holyoke Catholic), 2:06.10
3. Sabree Thomas (South Hadley), 2:13.72
7. Bryanna Veroneau (Belchertown), 2:18.08
8. Maela Whitcomb (Northampton), 2:18.93
9. Stephanie Jordan (Northampton), 2:19.45
12. Helen Hale (Belchertown), 2:24.12
15. Julia Maloof (Belchertown), 2:33.42
1. Delaney Dyjak (Holyoke Catholic), 24.79
6. Jamie Yurgielewicz (Northamton), 27.22
9. Tori LaVerdiere (Northampton), 27.41
12. Shannon Mitchell (South Hadley), 27.52
13. Jaye Thomas (South Hadley), 27.56
1. Christiana Greco (Minnechaug), 57.19
2. Sabree Thomas (South Hadley), 59.92
3. Kristyn Popowski (Holyoke Catholic), 1:00.06
4. Bryanna Veroneau (Belchertown), 1:01.40
6. Kaitlin Travers (Northampton), 1:02.92
9. Helen Hale (Belchertown), 1:04.06
1. Jerrica Li (Longmeadow), 51.12
2. Jessica Harper (Easthampton), 51.92
3. Delaney Dyjak (Holyoke Catholic), 54.51
4. Kerry Fleming (Northampton), 55.92
10. Claire Nauman (Belchertown), 58.62
15. Hannah Nelson (South Hadley), 1:00.80
1. Kristyn Popowski (Holyoke Catholic), 5:05.28
2. Erin Voss (Northampton), 5:05.59
5. Miranda Wingfield (Northampton), 5:18.12
8. Erica Dean (Northampton), 5:41.55
9. Riley Synan (Belchertown), 5:43.33
14. Kelly Boisjolie (Easthampton), 5:58.80
200 freestyle relay
1. Longmeadow, 1:40.97
3. Northampton (Jamie Yurgielwicz, Maela Whitcomb, Kerry Fleming, Erin Voss), 1:42.36
5. Holyoke Catholic (Kristyn Popowski, Meriza Werenski, Anna Desimone, Delaney Dyjak), 1:42.85
7. South Hadley (Cailey Newton, Jayde Thomas, Shannon Mitchell, Hannah Nelson), 1:52.00
10. Belchertown (Julia Mazza, Julia Maloof, Sierra Skaza, Riley Synan), 1:53.73
1. Jessica Harper (Easthampton), 57.53
6. Mackenzie Werenski (South Hadley), 1:02.85
7. Maela Whitcomb (Northampton), 1:03.86
11. Jamie Yurgielewicz (Northampton), 1:05.32
15. Anna Desimone (Holyoke Catholic), 1:09.22
1. Meriza Werenski (Holyoke Catholic), 1:06.11
4. Kaitlin Travers (Northampton), 1:12.72
8. Stephanie Jordan (Northampton), 1:14.64
9. Julia Maloof (Belchertown), 1:15.53
11. Erica Dean (Northampton), 1:15.92
13. Cailey Newton (South Hadley), 1:16.90
16 Shannon Collins (Northampton), 1:17.91
400 freestyle relay
1. Northampton (Maela Whitcomb, Miranda Wingfield, Kerry Fleming, Erin Voss), 3:41.23
4. Belchertown (Claire Nauman, Helen Hale, Riley Synan, Bryanna Veroneau), 3:47.32
5. South Hadley (Sabree Thomas, Jayde Thomas, Hannah NElson, Mackenzie Werenski), 3:59
12. Easthampton (Frederickie Rizos, Katie Vanasse, Jessica Connor, Jessica Harper), 4:21.31
15. Holyoke Catholic (Mary Lavallee, Carly Jillson, Anna Craig, Mary Walczak), 4:30.47