With a win against previously unbeaten Churchill at the Olney Swim Center on Saturday, Wootton’s girls’ squad moved to 5-0 in Montgomery County’s top division and a step closer to the MCPS Division I girls championship.
A team mostly comprised of underclassmen, the Patriots’ success thus far shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Montgomery County swimming. After a third place finish at Metros last season, then head coach Howard Blume told anyone that would listen that Wootton would be great next year — his best team ever. On Saturday against the defending Metros girls’ champions, they looked the part.
Tragically, Blume was never given the chance to see just how good this team really could be. In April, the spirited Blume — a staple on the pool deck for the past 12 seasons — passed away eight weeks after coaching his team to a second place finish in their first appearance at the Maryland state championship meet. Now, eight months after Blume’s passing, his vision is coming to pass with the Patriots undefeated and poised to sweep the divisional, Metro, and Maryland state titles this post-season.
“This was Howard Blume’s dream. This is the season that he always wanted and fought 12 years for and never really got,” said Wootton head coach Jackie Emr, a long time friend and assistant coach under Blume. “I think just knowing that will be really important to the team…” she added, her eyes filling with tears as her voice trailed off.
Wearing swim caps with the words “For Blume” displayed beneath their school’s logo, Wootton began the meet by seizing first and second place in girls’ 200 medley relay, dropping Churchill in a 10 point hole.
Churchill rebounded with a victory from freshman Hannah Lindsey in the 200-yard freestyle, but Wootton’s swimmers were right behind, grabbing second-, third- and fourth-place points. Lindsey won completely unchallenged in 1 minute, 56.56 seconds.
Wootton juniors Emily Zhang went 2:11.17 to win the 200 individual medley, and Jessica Chen posted a winning time of 24.55 seconds in the 50 freestyle, giving the Patriot girls a 43 to 19 points lead heading into diving.
The meet never got better for
the Bulldogs (4-1), despite winning four of the remaining seven events, resulting in a final score of 103 to 68 points.
“You could see today how much those second-, third- and fourth-place points really matter,” said Churchill coach Brendan Roddy. “We see [Wootton] four more times in the post-season, so we get the chance to figure out our lineup over the next couple meets.”
Wootton’s Kristina Li — first team All-Met last year as a sophomore — coasted in the 100 butterfly, winning in 58.43 seconds. Li’s second individual event proved to be a much tougher battle than her first as she clashed with Churchill’s Lindsey in a much anticipated battle between the defending Metro’s champion and one of the area’s bright young stars.
Lindsey exploded off the start and never looked back, countering every attack made by Li. She touched in 56.51 — a new team record. Li touched a moment later in 57.78.
“I approached it like any other of my races — relaxed, calm,” said Lindsey. “Beating the reigning Metros champ — I know it was just a dual meet — it was such a great feeling.”
“Last year I had this really bad habit of beating myself down before I ever entered the water. This year, I’m more confident — knowing that I’ve beat someone — going into Metros. I know I’m going to do well,” added Lindsey.
With the win over Li,
Lindsey remains undefeated in her short high school career. But the chances of that enduring are unlikely once prep school swimmers are added to the mix at Metros in three weeks, where she is likely to see Li again in the 100 backstroke, as well as Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky of Stone Ridge in the 200 or 500 freestyle.
“It’s always good to have an opportunity to race, and I think I will be better at Metros,” said Li. “I’m working on racing right now, not on competing with anyone. The outcome doesn’t really matter right now.”
“[Li's] reaction to getting second really shows how classy of a girl she really is. She swam her heart out, shook [Lindsey's] hand at the end, and came back excited to swim in the relay,” said coach Emr. “Kristina knows a little more about her now and she’ll train appropriately in preparation for Metros.”
At Metros, standouts like Li and Lindsey who have the ability to finish first will play an even greater role. There, first-place points are worth four times as many points as a dual meet and first through twentieth place score. Last year, Churchill knocked off Whitman by just two points thanks to the tremendous efforts of their diving core that provided them a 54 point cushion entering the swimming portion of the meet.
Churchill could have an even bigger lead this year. They return Metros and Maryland state champion Kali Becker — who has missed the last several weeks of training after having her gallbladder removed over the holiday break. She leads one of the strongest groups in the area that includes last year’s seventh place finisher Mashal Hasheem, who won on Saturday, and freshman Elaina Faerber — sister of the boys’ 2012 Maryland state champion Timothy Faerber — who was second.
“It’s always easier to knock someone off the top spot than to stay on top, so we’re going to go in knowing what we did today and we’re going to chase them down with every swim and every dive,” said coach Roddy.
Both teams have plenty of role players who will score major points for them at divisionals in two weeks and have the potential to final at Metros and states later in the season.
Michelle Illig, a senior, won the 100 freestyle for Churchill in a season best 54.98. Wootton’s Annie Fagan was second in 55.59.
Wootton junior Leah Hubert and Churchill sophomore Elaina Gu fought from start to finish in the 500 freestyle. Hubert was able to fend off a furious charge from Gu in the final 150 yards to win 5:08.95 to 5:09.17, respectively. Jessica Chen won the 100 breaststroke for the Patriots in 1:07.36. Her teammate, Scarlett Sun, earned two third place finishes in the 100 backstroke (1:01.31) and 200 IM (2:13.69).
“This is what its about,” said coach Emr. “Our girls want to swim the best and beat the best. Right now that’s Churchill.”
Wootton’s boys advanced to 3-2 with Saturday’s 99 to 72 victory over Churchill (2-2-1), their two losses coming to powerhouse Walter Johnson and upstart Richard Montgomery.
“We were missing a lot of swimmers last week against Walter Johnson, but we know we can compete with them over the next month.”
After going 1-2 in the opening 200 medley relay, Wootton racked up points by taking second through fourth in the 200 freestyle and 200 IM, as well as second and third in the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle, showing off their depth early.
The first individual win for the Patriots came in diving, where junior Eric Rogers beat Churchill sophomore Kyle Zonghetti, 122.25 to 119.75.
Senior Austin Dickey was impressive in the 100 breaststroke, winning in 58.65 for the Patriots. Junior teammate Andrew Gibson led a 1-3 sweep in the boys’ 100 backstroke, winning in 55.21.
“I was really impressed with the way my boys handled themselves today against a really strong Wootton team. Even in the races we won, my top swimmer wasn’t just racing their top swimmers, they were racing their first, second and third best swimmers,” said coach Roddy.
Senior Austin Cole shined in the loss, winning the 50 and 100 freestyle in 21.82 and 47.97, respectively. Cole remains undefeated in dual meets this season, but has not swam Walter Johnson’s top sprinter Barry Mangold, but they will most likely meet three times — at divisionals, Metros and states — over the next month.
Steven Ge was Churchill’s other double winner, winning the 200 freestyle in 1:48.14 and swimming a brilliantly strategized race to win the 500 freestyle in 4:55.47. Chris Goodkind was second in both events behind Ge. In the 500, Goodkind set the pace early, leading Ge through the first 350 yards. But Ge hung around at Goodkind’s feet, waiting to make his move in the final 200 yards, where he caught, passed, and eventually pulled away from Goodkind in the final lap.