Photo: Belmont High’s Swimming and Diving with their Finalist Trophy.
Despite winning five events from a veteran superstar and a young phenom, Belmont High School Girls’ Swimming and Diving team could not match the depth of Bishop Feehan High School of Attleboro as the Marauders finished second behind the Shamrocks for the third consecutive year at the MIAA Division 2 Swimming and Diving Championships held at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool on Sunday, Nov. 22.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these girls and how they swam,” said Ev Crosscup, Belmont’s long-time coach at the end of the meet.
“Give all credit to Bishop Feehan, they have excellent swimmers and great coaches. I take the blame for not having the girls ready for this meet. I thought we could get some of the same times as in the sectionals but, I can’t think of it right now how we could have prepared any better than we did,” said Crosscup.
Belmont’s 293 points total tops last year’s 239 points and the team’s previous high of 287.5 points in 2013. Bishop Feehan’s 21 point margin of victory, 314 to 293, is half the difference of 2014. It is the second time Belmont has finished second for three consecutive years, the first time in 1984-6, behind Acton-Boxborough.
“We had to swim an almost historic meet to win,” said Assistant Coach Gretchen Turner. “We just missed it.”
While Belmont topped Bishop Feehan in overall event victories, five to one (the Shamrock’s only win was senior Hannah Phelan narrow victory in 1-meter diving), Feehan’s overall strength were swimmers who scored high in each event – coming in third six times and second once with two swimmers scoring in the top 10 several times – while Belmont and Reading, which finished third, did not score or only garnered a few points in a handful of events.
But this year’s meet will be known for the performance of two Belmont swimmers; senior powerhouse talent Jessie Blake-West and freshman sensation Nicole Kalavantis.
The most versatile and complete athlete seen in Division 2 in years, Blake-West stole the show with a pair of memorable victories in her final high school meet.
Blake-West’s most impressive performance was her solo swim in the 100-yard butterfly, where she was the two-time defending champion, winning in a season’s best 54.66 seconds, destroying the previous meet record by nearly two seconds and solidifying her automatic National Scholastic All-American status, the only swimmer who came close to that honor at the event.
“It’s a challenge when you’re out-in-front, and you have to race the clock and yourself rather than people next to you,” said Blake West.
“But it’s a lesson that I’ve learned throughout all my [state championship] races and I’ve definitely learned to race myself. So it was great, I definitely going for my own record from last year and I got it! I’m really happy with that,” she said.
What made Blake-West’s accomplishment even more impressive is it came less than 30 minutes after the state’s most dominant swimmer took apart a veteran field to win the 50-yard freestyle sprint in 23.85 seconds, defeating season leader Lily Gribbel of Wellesley by .40 seconds. Blake-West, who is expected to attend and swim for Brown next year, declined to defend her 200 Individual Medley title in a strategic move to allow her to have something left in the tank for a possible deciding final relay.
Championship Sunday was also the coming out party for potentially Belmont’s next great swimmer. Kalavantis took her first title in dramatic fashion, storming from behind in the final 50 yards to shot by the leader, Central Catholic’s Kylee Dion, to win by two lengths, dipping under two minutes with a 1 minute, 58.91-second mark.
“I was seeded first and I knew I was really far behind so I said, ‘I got to win this for Belmont so I kinda like sprinted and I won,” said Kalavantis.
If her first victory was close, Kalavantis’ second, the 500-yard freestyle marathon, was a runaway as the 9th grader left fellow freshman standout Molly Williams of Melrose after 100 yards and put together a command performance as she took the title in 5:17.97, just off her season’s best of 5:16.45 set last week at the North Sectionals.
“It was really exciting, I was a thrill,” said Kalavantis of her duel victories.
Belmont started the meet behind the eight-ball after the first event when Reading defeated the defending champions Marauders, 1:51.76 to 1:52.04, with seniors Emily Quinn (breaststroke) and Blake-West – both were seeking to be on the victorious relay for the third time – could not bridge the gap and provide enough of a lead to allow Belmont to take the title. Coming in second saw Belmont give up six valuable points.
In the 100 breaststroke, co-captain Quinn broke 1:10 (1:09.57) to finish third behind freshman Olivia Mozoki from Marshfield, who was the only other winner of two individual events, going along with the 200 IM. Quinn was joined by junior Dervla Moore-Frederick, who took sixth (12 points) in 1:12.17 and freshman Angela Li in 13th (4 points) in 1:14.12. Sophomore Caroline Daskalakis rounded out the field in 21st.
While giving back a bit of time from sectionals, Belmont’s swimmers took the challenge and swam with a lot of guts as they faced a steep climb against two talented teams (Reading defeated Belmont at Higgenbottom Pool last month).
Freshman Sophie Butte swam backstroke in the medley relay, scored 7 points each time finishing 10th in both the 50 and 100 yards free (25.89 and 56.78). Sophomore Julia Bozkurtian also swam on the medley relay and finished 16th in the 50 yard free.
Senior captain Sara Noorouzi and Elizabeth Levy scored in the 200 free in 13th and 14th while Moore-Frederick took 9th in the 200 IM in 2:20.80 with Li in 14th (2:24.36) in the same event. Quinn took a 13th in the butterfly (1:03.51).
Joining Kalavantis in the 500 with points were Levy in 9th (5:35.15), and Noorouzi (5:40.70) and junior Allie Beecroft (5:40.93) in 14th and 15th.
Junior Molly Thomas placed 12th in the 100-yard backstroke (1:03.90) joined by sophomore Stephanie Zhang and junior Grace Newberry in 17th and 19th.
Belmont’s freshman-laded 200-yard relay of froshs Butte, Li and Kalavantis with senior Solvay Metelmann (who also swam the 50 free) swam under its qualifying time by nearly half-a-second to claim 5th in 1:44.73.
By the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, Belmont was seeking to place its own explanation point on the night while nailing down second place. Bozkurtian led off with a stellar swim keeping up with a pair of strong swimmers from Reading and Bishop Feehan.
Levy in second held the gap to a reasonable distance in third as Kalavantis entered the pool for the fourth time having gone nearly half-a-mile in the water against two fresh swimmers.
As with her earlier races, it took some time for her to get up to speed but was able to touch off to Blake-West even with Reading and Bishop Feehan.
Swimming against 100 yard free specialists who finished third and fourth in the event, Blake-West separated from the pack early and hammered home in 3:40.84, defeating Bishop Feehan by a three-and-a-half seconds, giving her and Kalavantis their third title of the afternoon.
“I loved going out on a high note with a third win. High School season is definitely has been one of the best experiences I’ve had so I’m really excited to take these successes and take them to college and see how I’ll do with them there,” said Blake-West, just before joining the team and Crosscup for photos with the state finalist trophy.