Magnificent 7: Amherst girls swimming claims Division 2 state title, program’s first

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  • Northampton junior Sydney Abild won the 100-yard breastsroke state championship Saturday at Boston University during the MIAA Division 2 girls state championships. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown’s Alannah Lavoie races the 100-yard butterfly at Boston University during the MIAA Division 2 girls state championships Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Amherst’s Lucy Smith reacts to winning the 100-yard freestyle state championship at Boston University during the MIAA Division 2 girls state championships Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Amherst senior Sara Baxter receives a hug as Amherst Regional finds out it won the Division 2 girls team state championship Saturday at Boston University. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Amherst’s Adda Hennessey, right, and Lucy Smith celebrate with the Division 2 girls swimming state championship trophy Saturday at Boston University. It was the first title in Hurricanes history. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Amherst’s Lucy Smith races the 100-yard freestyle at Boston University during the MIAA Division 2 girls state championships Saturday. She won two individual championships and contributed to a relay victory. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2022 11:06:26 PM

BOSTON – Seven pairs of hands covered seven mouths almost simultaneously in surprise. 

Tears flowed from Amherst Regional senior Sara Baxter’s eyes, almost indistinguishable from the Boston University Pool water droplets. The announcement sounded over the loudspeakers that Marblehead finished second.

The Hurricanes realized they’d won the state championship for the first time in program history Saturday.

“It’s really surreal,” Baxter said. “If you told us we were going to win at the beginning of the season, I don’t think I would have believed you.”

She might have if you asked her this week, though. Baxter crunched the numbers to score the meet as soon as the psych sheets came out. If every swimmer placed their seed, the Hurricanes would win by 12 points. 

“At that point I was like ‘oh that’s so interesting that we could do it,’” Amherst coach Gyselle Hennessey said. “Twelve points is not a lot. I didn’t know that was going to go down.”

Baxter undersold Amherst’s potential. The Hurricanes, just seven swimmers strong, finished with 235 points, 39 clear of second-place Marblehead.

Teams usually taper to try and peak at the state meet. Few did it better than the Hurricanes. They won three events and stacked two silver medals onto their score, as well.

Junior Lucy Smith factored into all three victories. She captured state championships in both notoriously fickle sprints: the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyles.

“I’ve been saying we just need to get in and race. These sprint events can be so close, it can be .01 seconds in between first and second, and I know that,” Smith said. “I get in the mindset that I need to get in, get my head down and touch the wall.”

Her 24.2-second 50-yard freestyle was 0.49 seconds faster than the rest of the field. Her teammate Rowan Albertson took third in 24.95 seconds.

Smith was behind for the first 50 in the 100 but reached the final wall first. She then held off a charging field to hit the wall first in 53.03. Second-place (Nantucket’s Emma Davis) was just 0.24 seconds behind her. Amherst’s Adda Hennessey placed fourth (55.28).

“Lucy is incredible. She has so much strength and she keeps such a level head. She’s so fun on deck. She has so much energy, she keeps everybody up,” Gyselle Hennessey said. “Her mental fortitude is incredible.”

Smith also swam on the Hurricanes’ winning 200-yard medley relay squad that set the tone for the rest of the meet. Amherst was seeded first in an event it’s used to winning. A victory in the medley propelled the Hurricanes to a sectional championship two weeks ago.

They’re undefeated in the event this season but knew Saturday’s win would be the hardest. Dover-Sherborn featured Minnesota commit Ava Yablonski in the backstroke leg. She also won the 100 back state title.

“This isn’t going to be the same comfortable race we’re used to,” Baxter warned her teammates. “We’re not gonna have an early lead. But we put our heads in the game, we chased them down.”

Deborah Wells swam the breaststroke leg to narrow the gap, and Adda Hennssey completed the comeback in the freestyle leg, as the Hurricanes prevailed in 1:48.47 to start the meet off with 40 points.

Weston jumped ahead of them after the 200 freestyle which didn’t feature an Amherst swimmer, but Wells’ fifth-place in the 200 individual medley (2:09.69) combined with Baxter taking 13th (2:15.77) restored a lead the Hurricanes wouldn’t lose.

Baxter added a second in the 100 backstroke (58.55), and the Hurricanes’ 400 freestyle relay team of Baxter, Wells, Albertson and Smith took second (3:41.77). Amherst led by more than 40 points at the start of the relay, so the championship was already assured no matter what happened.

But they still gathered together on the podium and listened to team scores being read, hoping. When the announcement finally came through, Gyselle Hennessey held Smith’s hands as they jumped up and down on the wet pool deck screaming. Baxter clapped one hand into the other and told her team “that was the first time Amherst has ever won states. Ever.”

The Hurricanes’ previous best finish was second in the Division 1 meet in 1998. No Western Massachusetts school had won a girls team title since Minnechaug in 1992.

Adda Hennessey held the trophy the longest. Her teammates asked her if she wanted to take it home. She nodded, her face spreading a smile as wide as her ears.

“It makes it all the more special, the pride that I have for all of them,” said Gyselle Hennessey, her sister. “I have it so much more for her because I know where she comes from. I know all of her struggles. I see all of the pain and all of the work.”

Northampton’s Sydney Abild is also headed back to Western Massachusetts with a first-place medal. She touched the wall first comfortably in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:04.26). That was nearly five seconds clear of the field for the junior’s first state championship.

“When I pushed off the wall going into the last 25, I knew I was going first by quite a bit,” Abild said. “It felt really good when I hit the board, looked up at the wall and saw number one. This has been my stroke since I was like six years old, and I’ve just stuck with it.”

She added a fourth-place finish in the 200 IM (2:09.69).

Easthampton junior Natalia Robak completed a rare double: competing in the meet’s first two individual events.  She finished fifth in the 200 free (1:55.11) then seventh in the 200 IM (2:12).

Belchertown was ninth in the 400 free relay. Aubrey Harrington, Allyson Linkenhoker, Elyssa Wrona and Alannah Lavoie clocked a 3:50.59.

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