Photo: Jessica Blake-West swimming the 100 butterfly against Reading.
“No tears,” said long-time Belmont High Head Coach Ev Crosscup as he talked to his girls’ swimming and diving team after falling to the visiting Reading Memorial High School in the final dual meet of the season, and clinching the regular season Middlesex League championships to the Rockets on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
And like a good coach will also do, Crosscup took the blame for the 96-84 defeat at the Higgenbottom Pool.
“I told [the girls] they should hold their heads up high. It was just some little things that, in hindsight, we could have done better, and I accepted the blame for that,” said Crosscup.
“They did nothing wrong. I should have had them just a little bit better prepared. But we can’t take anything away from Reading. They were the better team today,” he said.
In fact, the meet came down to the final relay, the 4×400-yard freestyle, in which Belmont needed to win and a second for a win, and a win and a third place finish for a tie. By the final leg, as Belmont’s senior captain Jessie Blake-West took off from the blocks, she was nearly 10 yards behind Reading’s sprint specialist senior captain Christina Tzianabos, who finished eighth in the 100-yard freestyle in last year’s state championships. But in one of the most impressive swims of the season, Blake-West cut seconds off the advantage, chasing down and nearly catching Tzinanbos, being inched out by less that a half a second as the standing-room-only crowd urged her on.
“She’s exceptional. [Blake-West] is a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer to coach,” said Crosscup.
While Reading, coached by Hall of Famer Lois Margeson – in her 28th season – threw down personal best times, the Marauders appeared less than sharp in the water.
The sense that something was amiss came in the first event, the 200-yard medley relay in which Belmont is the defending Div. 2 state champions. While Blake-West (in her favorite butterfly) and breaststroker Emily Quinn established a lead, it wasn’t enough of a buffer as Tzinanbos swam down Belmont’s Solvay Metelmann to out touch the senior by six-hundredth of a second (1:55.50 to 1:55.56).
And while Belmont won the same number of events as Reading (five to five with a tie), the Rockets came up big in what has been a Belmont bug-a-boo for the past two years, the sprint freestyles, (the 50 and 100 yards) taking home a total of 22 points to only 10 for the Marauders.
One bright spot in the frees was Belmont’s freshman Nicole Kalavantis, who dominated the distances, winning the 500 yard going under five-and-a-half minutes (5:28.91) and the 200 (2:04.59) where she pulled away from Reading’s freshman phenom and winner of the 100 yards free, Marie Letendre.
“Our freestylers did a wonderful job. [Reading] just has some real strong ones,” said Crosscup.
Blake-West dominated the two individual events in which she won at last year’s state championship, the 200 individual medley (2:14.62) and the 100 butterfly, in which she swam in 57.10.
Belmont’s diving stalwart Cynthia Kelsey took home a comfortable 266.70 to 199.73 point decision over freshman Maddie Doyle in the 1 meter.
In some surprising results, Belmont lost each of the relays (200, 400 and medley) and Quinn, who finished third in last year’s state championships, was caught and passed in the 100 breast by yet another Rocket freshman, Anna Roberts, 1:11.00 to 1:11.57.
When Blake-West could not make a remarkable comeback in the final event and the handshakes given, the team sat before Crosscup, who was sitting on a starting block. Rather than speak about the meet, he congratulated swimmers who set times that qualified them for the coming sectional and state championships.
And Crosscup was already thinking about the league meet being held Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 4 and 5, at Bentley College.
“We should be solid at the league meet. I think we could win that,” he said. “I’ve always felt that the League meet is the true test of who is the best.”
Before leaving the pool, the senior co-captains led the team in the team cheer, as they looked forward to the league meet and the state championships.