Ev Crosscup isn’t known for showing much emotion poolside when his Belmont High School Girls’ Swimming squad is competing. He’s usually sitting placidly with his assistant coaches, reviewing times and quietly watching as the action swirls around him.
But after reviewing the score with one event remaining in the biggest duel meet this season, the long-time Marauders’ leader briefly pumped his fist as a little smile come to his face as he headed for the rear of the pool at Minuteman Tech.
“We got it,” Crosscup said while passing to meet the girls.
For the past two seasons, host Lexington High came to the 400 yard freestyle relay to prevent Belmont from securing outright the coveted Middlesex League title.
Not this time.
In a maelstrom of screaming teenagers (and parents), suffocating humidity and over-the-top drama, Belmont revamped its event lineup and received important contributions from the deep and talented squad to pile up just enough points to make the final event irrelevant as the Marauders defeated the Minutemen, 84-82, to win sole possession of the Middlesex League title on Friday evening, Oct. 24 in Lexington.
“What a meet and what a win for the league championship,” said Crosscup. “We knew it was going to be a close on and it came down to the end so you have to credit all the kids and coaches,” he said.
The win left team veterans, who twice felt the sting of an only defeat of the year to the Minutemen, speechless.
“Knowing that we just won, I really have no words to explain how I feel right now,” said senior Kaitlin Feloney, who was first in line to congratulate the Minutemen after the win was announced.
“We knew we were strong this year and that it would come down to Lexington. It’s incredible that I was able to lead the team with the three other captains” said Feloney, who shares the team’s captaincy with fellow seniors Eunice Lee, Klaudia Nagrabska and Maya Nagishima.
“We kept a positive attitude throughout the year, and it all paid off tonight,” she said.
The meet was as much a chess match as a contest of straight-line swimming speed when Crosscup dropped his two best swimmers, juniors Jessica Blake-West (the defending Div. 2 state champion in the 100 butterfly and second at states in the 200 individual medley) and Emily Quinn (a state finalist in the 100 breaststroke) into freestyle events which have been Belmont’s weakest stroke for the past few years.
In the meet’s biggest showdown, the pair would battle it out in the 100 freestyle with the Minutemen’s free specialist Jayne Vogelzang, who finished second in the same event at last year’s Div. 1 state championships with a 54.27.
But on this night, Blake-West showed why she, along with Bishop Feehan’s senior Mari Reidemeister (who will attempt next month to qualify and represent Costa Rica in the 2015 World Swimming Championships) are two of the best all-around swimmers in the state by powering away from Vogelzang to win by a second-and-a-half in 54.69 seconds.
Quinn took the vital third place (1:00.27) points with the ever-improving freshman Ophelie Loblack – who was an impressive youth swimmer in Maryland – stormed home in fourth (1:01.15). The event gave Belmont 11 points to Lexington’s 5 to build a 52-42 lead midway through the meet.
“It was a good move,” said Crosscup. “In this particular incident, it took a first place away from their best swimmer with our best swimmer. That matched up perfect. You worry about it working out, but this time it did so wonderfully.”
Belmont was building on a lead after the opening event, the 200 yard medley relay – in which the four relay members swims a different stroke – when Belmont’s top team (Blake-West, Quinn, Nagishima and Alison Sawyer) won going away in 1:56.12 with Belmont’s second squad, made up of Nagrabska, Molly Thomas, Julia Bozkurtian and Solvay Metelmann, took a strong second (by a third of a second over Lexington’s ‘A’ team) as the Marauders’ third relay – Sarah Osborn, Sarah Stewart, Stephanie Zhang and Julia Cunningham – came in fourth, giving the Marauders a 12-2 advantage off the bat.
Crosscup’s tactical move meant the team would need to rely on many underclassmen and role athletes scoring well against an experienced Lexington team. And in nearly every race, a Marauder challenged for placements from their host to cut the points the Minutemen could accumulate.
“I know for a fact whether you swam first heat or second or you came in first or sixth, we won that meet because of our emotion and depth. They may have been a better team, but we relied on that emotion,” said Feloney.
In the 200 freestyle, Sara Noorouzi took 4th (2:11.35) by just over a tenth of a second, Dervla Moore-Frederick finished 5th in individual medley (won by Blake-West) to win the event 9 to 7, Loblack and Sawyer took second and third in the 50 free (27.15 to 27.16) that would not have been anticipated in September while Nagashima and Thomas broke up the top two Lexington backstroke specialists by bringing home a second and third.
“I couldn’t be prouder and pleased with what they contributed,” he said.
“The one I was most pleased with was [co-captain Eunice] Lee. Because of her times and the situation we found ourselves in, I had her go in the 100 [butter]fly (finishing second after a false start moved her up a spot in 1:08.03), rest an event and then go the 500 free (taking 4th in 5:52.15). That was an ironman type of job. And despite the lack of rest, she did beautifully,” said Crosscup.
“I could have used another swimmer who would have been good, but that swimmer could not make up the seconds Lee has in the 500,” he said.
With Lexington just four points back coming into the penultimate event, Crosscup pulled out three aces there were up his sleeve; a trio of the best breaststroke swimmers in Eastern Massachusetts. At last year’s state championship, Quinn (3rd), Nagrabska (4th) and Osborn (10th) were three of the four Belmont swimmers in the top 10. And the experience of swimming in big meets paid off as the three swept the event, Quinn (1:11.53) first, Osborn (1:13.60) second and Nagrabska (1:15.87) third.
The wins pushed Belmont’s lead to 14, 85-71, with the 400 free relay to come. With only 12 points available to the Minutemen, the long-awaited league victory was secured. While the crowd and swimmers could only guess at the score – no announcement is given and the score is not put up on a scoreboard – they knew something was up when Blake-West and the other top swimmers did not line up for the final event.
All that was left was an exchange of hugs and high fives, congratulate Lexington and for the team to scream in unison as it traveled through Belmont Center and by the football field.
“We’re Middlesex League champions. That’s a nice sound,” said Crosscup.