In front of a packed home-crowd, full of parents, students and friends, the Holton-Arms girls out-cheered, out-raced and out-swum the competition at the Independent School League swimming championships to reclaim the title.
During every event, Panthers packed the turn-end to cheer on their teammates in the water, and echoes of “Let’s go Panthers!” boomed throughout the pool deck from start to finish to push those racing to swim beyond their seed. With a sweep of all three relays and three individual victories, Holton-Arms reclaimed their title lost to Stone Ridge last year in run-away fashion. Stone Ridge finished a far cry from the Panthers (267) with 180 points to take second place overall. Sidwell Friends finished third (158), followed by Madeira (153).
“We knew it would be a battle,” said Coach Graham Westerberg. “We know what Stone Ridge has and what the rest of the league has, and for our girls to rise to the challenge and swim the way they did tonight was really special.”
Holton-Arms junior Caroline McTaggart, a two-time All-Met, was perhaps more special than the rest with two individual victories and a stunning come-from-behind anchor swim in the 200-yard freestyle relay that cemented the Panthers title early. McTaggart won the 50 freestyle uncontested in 24.34 seconds and held off Madeira standout Kylie Jordan in the 100 butterfly, 56.34 to 56.48.
But the moment swimmers and spectators alike will remember most came in the 200 freestyle relay.
McTaggart dove in for the anchor leg down .35 seconds and with an Olympic champion in the lane beside her. Stone Ridge’s Katie Ledecky had beat McTaggart in every other meeting, individual or relay, in which the swimmers were close.
As the two rival teams best swimmers took to the water, the noise reached a deafening roar that can only exist within a small, six-lane pool filled to capacity with 13 all-girls teams during a close relay.
McTaggart touched first, out-splitting the reigning All-Met Swimmer of the Year, 22.95 to 23.48, to take first for the Panthers, 1:40.43 to 1:40.51.
While Ledecky was stepping onto the blocks for the relay a mere 15 minutes after winning the 500 freestyle, McTaggart simply looked sharper in the water as she surged in the final 25 meters to steal the race from Stone Ridge.
“I was really proud that our relays could pull through tonight,” said McTaggart, who also anchored the winning 400 free relay for the Panthers. “We lost that relay at the dual meet so it was really nice to win it at the championship.”
It was a rare loss at the high school level for Ledecky, who has had busy winter season including meets in Knoxville, Tenn., Glasgow, Scotland and Austin, Texas in the last six weeks.
“Holton has a great team this year, and their relays are really stacked,” Ledecky said. “It was a challenge we knew we’d have to step up to, and we fell a little short today. It’s always a great race with them.”
Ledecky won the 200 free (1:50.33) and 500 free (4:48.40) by wide margins. In the 500, Ledecky held a three-body length lead after only 100 yards. She lapped all but second place by the time the final lap bell was rung and caught the final swimmer as she touched for the victory.
Ledecky is expected to dominate her individual events in the next couple weeks at WMPSSDLs and Metros, and for the moment she’s happy for the routine of high school swimming as she helps Stone Ridge move up the championship rankings and to potentially make a run at Katie Hoff’s American record in the 500 free (4:30.47).
“I’m really excited for the next couple weeks and then getting into a few months of uninterrupted training before summer,” Ledecky said. “[The Metros] atmosphere is great every year. There will be a lot of fast swimming from all the swimmers, and I hope I’m one of them.”
Ex-O’Connell swimmer Kate Ziegler broke the American record in the event at Metros in 2006 as a senior with a time of 4:33.35. Last year, Ledecky missed Hoff’s mark by .91 seconds, but shattered Ziegler national high school record by nearly two seconds.
“I know the history, I know what’s been done at this meet before,” said Ledecky. “I don’t like to over-think it, so I’m just going do my best and see what happens.”
Holton-Arms also picked up an individual win from junior Isabelle Jubin, who won the 100 free in 54.27. Jubin also finished third in the 200 individual medley, as well as swam fly on the winning 200 medley relay and in the third spot on the 400 free relay. Four other swimmers placed in the top five for the Panthers.
“We’ve always been about the team,” Coach Westerberg said. “We’re more than just one swimmer, or two swimmers, or even five. That’s out strength and that’s what we continue to build on moving forward. We know the rest of the area will be gunning for us in the next couple weeks, I think our girls are ready for the challenge.”
Other event winners include Madeira’s Jordan (200 IM), Georgetown Visitation’s Bridie Burke (100 back), Schuyler Bailar (100 breast) and Lexi von Friedeburg (1-meter).