Never in Howard Blume’s 12 years of coaching the Wootton swim and dive team had his Patriots won a Montgomery County championship meet. Two years ago the Patriot boys appeared poised to break that streak, but they fell three points shy of Walter Johnson‘s winning point total.
So it was understandable that when a parent remarked late in Saturday’s county championship meet at the Martin Luther King Swim Center that the Patriots were still atop the leaderboard, Blume immediately pressed a finger to his lips so as not to jinx his team. By that point, however, the results were already all but decided.
With much of the attention on Division I and defending county champions Churchill, the Wootton boys finally broke through. With a deep roster full of talented juniors and a standout freshman, the Patriots locked up their first county title in recent memory, despite winning only two events.
With a head start in the standings provided by a one-two finish from junior divers Jordan Lesser (355.35) and Bryan Doremus (346.40), Wootton used 10 top eight finishes to make up for its lack of top times and post a combined score of 279, besting Sherwood (247) and Churchill (241).
The Whitman girls continued their string of strong performances this season, scoring 376 points to win the meet and combining with the Viking boys to take first in the combined scores. Churchill’s girls (316) finished second followed by Walter Johnson (237) and Sherwood (224).
“Our goal was to win this meet but we were not the favorite by any means,” Blume said. “Our kids stepped up. We don’t have a lot of superstars but we have a lot of depth.”
The Patriots took sixth in the 200 medley relay to open the meet then proceeded to post third (Thomas Finn) and sixth (Raymond Zhou) place times in the 200 free, fifth in the 50 free (Michael Fu), third in the 100 free (Matt Gibson), third in the 100 back (Gibson), sixth in the 100 breast (Fu) and fourth in the 400 free relay. Their lone first place finish Saturday came in a thrilling 200 free relay race in which Gibson touched the wall less than three tenths of a second before Walter Johnson’s Kevin Spak for a time of 1:30.67.
“We knew from divisionals that our top two in each event have a chance to beat anyone,” said Gibson, whose four events all came in the second half of Saturday’s meet. “We knew we had to show up in the relays and we put up some great times. It was a really great meet and we pulled it off.”
Sherwood senior Eric Conrad had a tremendous individual effort, sweeping a pair of individual events and helping the Warriors to first place finishes in both the 400 free relay (3:17.29) and 200 medley relay (1:38.91), setting a new meet record in the process. The reigning county champion in both the 100 fly and backstroke defended both titles, posting a 51.58 in the fly and meet record 52.43 in the back. But he saved his best performance for last as he made up a substantial deficit on the final leg of the 400 free relay race to get past Whitman (3:18.17), Walter Johnson (3:18.18) and Wootton (3:18.37) in a very close finish.
“I always get really pumped up for relays and I love anchoring,” Conrad said. “It gets the adrenaline running. As soon as I dove in, I knew I had to bust out a really good time.”
Whitman senior Serge Gould also had a strong day, taking first in the 200 free (1:44.44) and second in the 100 back (53.25) despite swimming in the first heat in both events. Coming into the meet with no times in both events, Gould was out in front from start to finish in both races, forcing him to push himself to the final wall. Gould also anchored Whitman’s second place team in the 400 free relay (3:18.17), edging out Walter Johnson senior Andrew Tollefson by the narrowest of margins on the final leg (3:18.18)
“You’ve just got to focus on what you’re doing,” Gould said. “It’s great to have competition — it helps you go faster — but you’ve always got to know what you need to do and just focus on that. It is an individual sport, so you’ve got to remember that, too.”
Other individual winners on the boys’ side included Tollefson in the 200 IM (1:58.22), Magruder senior Josh Heller in the 50 free (21.95), Quince Orchard senior Kevin Hauri in the 100 free (49.10) and Sherwood’s Matt Lee in the 100 breast (1:00.31).
The Whitman girls used an approach similar to Wootton’s, winning only one individual event but using their depth to accumulate enough points to prevail. The Vikings also swept all three relays, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the final event of the day, the 400 free relay.
Trailing going into the third leg, senior Dani Schulkin — who was ousted from the top of the 100 fly standings earlier in the meet —charged back from more than a full body length behind Walter Johnson’s Sara Kwon to give sophomore Reia Tong a lead going into the final leg and set the table for a new meet record (3:34.68).
“I had a really bad finish in my 100 fly, but that just put more fire in my belly,” Schulkin said. “I was frustrated with my swims today so I just decided I was going to go for it there. I really wanted that race.”
The Vikings got off to a fast start, taking the 200 medley relay (1:50.16) behind strong efforts from Schulkin, senior Lauren Poore, Tong and freshman Audrey Gould. Poore had enough left in the tank to win the very next event, the 200 free (1:55.35) and then Whitman began its string of top five finishes. Freshman Charlotte Meyer took fourth in the 200 IM (2:08.28), Tong (24.65) and sophomore Victoria Kuhn (24.65) tied for second in the 50 free, Schulkin finished second in the 100 fly (56.08), Poore (53.51) and Tong (53.82) went 2-3 in the 100 free, Kuhn (59.97) and Schulkin (1:00.05) finished fourth and fifth respectively in the 100 back and Gould finished fourth in the 100 breast (1:09.85). The 200 free relay team of senior Jenna Mahaffie, Poore, Kuhn and Meyer finished just off the county meet record with a 1:40.03.
“It was just a matter of us staying ahead of Churchill by two or three spots in each event,” Whitman Coach Geoff Schaefer said. “Next week at the same basic philosophy will apply. We’re not going to win everything, but we’re sure going to try for second and third places. That meet is designed for second and third place to win.”
Walter Johnson’s Elizabeth Pepper had a standout day with a meet record in the 200 IM (2:05.05) and a surprising win over new club teammate Schulkin in the 100 fly (55.93). She also teamed with juniors Sidney Drill and Sara Kwon and senior Jessica Yuan to take a close second in the 200 (1:40.09) and 400 free relays (3:37.72).
“I didn’t expect to go that fast,” Pepper said. “I really wanted to go 55 in the 100 fly for a while now, so it was good to finally get that. It was kind of surprising, but I was really excited.”
Sherwood junior Emily Ryczek was another double winner as she swept the 50 (24.53) and 100 free (52.41). Other individual girls’ winners included Walter Johnson sophomore diver Annie Kastler (362.20), Poolesville senior Cara Chuang in the 100 back (57.16) and Quince Orchard senior Kelsey Liu in the 100 breast (1:07.13).
Wootton has its sights set on another strong performance at Metros next week, although no one will be taking them lightly.
“To me it’s all gravy,” Blume said. “We’re not as loaded as other teams. I don’t think we can win Metros, but I’d like to have a good representation. People didn’t even have us ranked in the top five going into this season, so the kids performed very well today.”