Photo: Belmont High Swimming and Divings captains, (from left) Sara Noorouzi, Sarah Steward, Jessica Blake-West, Emily Quinn, readies for the state championship on Sunday at Harvard.
At the beginning of each swim season, the Belmont High Swimming and Diving’s senior captains come together to set a team goal.
Train harder, chase pool records, take home the Middlesex League title, those are the common aspirations made every year.
On Aug. 25, the four senior co-captains – Jessie Blake-West, Emily Quinn, Sarah Stewart and Sara Noorouzi – set the team’s target to a level not sought by past leaders.
Let’s win the state championship.
“We have never said, as long as I’ve been on the team, said our goal is to win states,” said Stewart on Thursday, Nov. 20, after the team was feted at the Belmont High School Athletic Awards Night.
“So for us to even vocalize that to the team and to think of that goal ourselves is huge,” said Stewart.
On Sunday morning, Nov. 22, at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, the final step in that goal will be taken when the Marauders take to the water in the MIAA Division 2 State Championship.
“It’s what we’ve been seeking since August, and we have given ourselves that chance,” said Stewart.
Three teams will battle for the Championship: Belmont, fellow Middlesex League team Reading Memorial and two-time defending state champions Bishop Feehan. In the Shamrock’s past two victories, Belmont placed second each time.
But long-time Head Coach Ev Crosscup and the team’s expectation were peaked this past weekend at the MIAA North Sectionals where Belmont finished fourth behind Andover, Acton-Boxborough and Reading.
But it wasn’t the team’s placement that sparked all the hubbub, but the times recorded, which broke or matched season bests.
“We were asking, ‘where are these times coming from?” said Crosscup, pointing to the 200 Medley Relay. Those kids dropped four seconds,” said Crosscup.
Leading the way were freshman Nicole Kalavantis in the 200 (rated the best time coming into the meet according to the “Psych Sheet”) and 500 yard freestyle (in which she is considered the odds-on favorite to win the event), Quinn in her speciality the 100 breast where she cut four seconds from her season’s best to rank first, and senior diver Cynthia Kelsey who has registered a rare “10.0” on a dive this season.
But when you talk about the leader of the Marauders in the pool, it is Blake-West. Her 54.67-second 100-yard butterfly win at the North Sectionals earned her National Scholastic All-American honors.
“First time I’ve ever had an All-American in over 20 years,” said Crosscup. “I’ve had some real good swimmers, but no one has ever qualified for All-American automatically. Jessie’s very special,” he said.
Going into the pool for the last time for her school on Sunday, Blake-West said Thursday she’ll come to the pool “centered on my races and not get caught up in the meet.”
Blake-West, who has committed to swim at Brown next year, said she’ll be chasing the state butterfly record – 53.56 set by Andover’s Rachel Moore in 2011 – and will be seeking a new title, in the 50-yard freestyle rather than defend her 200-yard individual medley.
“That was a tactical move so that I’m fresh for the relays,” said Blake-West.
“I think I have some good times still in me,” she said.
Crosscup believes the girls have not peaked despite the big time gains at sectionals.
“We haven’t got the team fully tapered, so that’s why I think we have something left in the tank,” he said.
“But we’ll have to show up and swim become Bishop Feehan, and Reading are all within 10-15 points of each other,” he said.
But the captains’ goal of holding the state championship plaque poolside on Sunday afternoon is attainable, said Steward.
“Every day we work hard. We are in the pool and Ev pushes us and doesn’t hold back, and that’s really important,” she said.
“With all the freshmen, we’ve added to the team, and how they are swimming, we are looking really good and I am excited for Sunday,” Steward said.
For Crosscup, who has been forced to take a step back from coaching due to a serious lung illness, his team “will be in the hunt. It will be a lot of fun.”
“Even if we don’t make it, I couldn’t be prouder of this group of girls and how hard they have worked. Probably one of the strongest group of swimmers I’ve had in my career,” said Crosscup.
“I told the girls I’m going to do nothing but smile on Sunday regardless of what we do.”