During the MIAA Division 2 State Swimming and Diving Championships held Sunday, Nov. 16 at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, Belmont High School long-time head coach Ev Crosscup would tap his chest with his fist when greeting his squad poolside.
“Our message was that we had worked well together as a team. We’re focused, worked hard together; we’ve supported each other. I told them that we were going to take it to the next level that we, as a team, we’re one collective heartbeat today,” said Crosscup.
On the night of a record and a slew of season best times, Belmont finished second to Attleboro’s Bishop Feehan, 270 to 239, a margin of a mere 29 points.
“I could not be more pleased in the effort from everybody; they all had best times from the week before [at the North Sectionals where Belmont finished third] when they had best times. That’s almost unheard of,” said Crosscup.
“We battled all the way to the end. We gave Bishop Feehan a good run, but we didn’t quite have enough to pull it out. But second doesn’t takeaway all what we accomplished today. I couldn’t have expected anymore,” he said.
Leading the way for the Marauders was junior star Jessie Blake-West who took returned to Belmont with three state championships – all obtained within a 40-minute time period – a feat matched only by Newton North’s Amanda Graf in the Division 1 championships held earlier Sunday.
“It’s great, it’s so great,” said Blake-West, who now has five state swimming championship titles in her trophy case.
“I’m just glad I could be here to celebrate it with the coaches and the team,” she told the Belmontonian.
The highlight of the night was Blake-West’s third victory in her specialty, the 100-yard butterfly. Taking on a talented field, Blake-West opened with a 25.71 second first 50 yards to win in a state championship record time of 56.28, winning by a full two seconds over freshman Alyvia Petrozza of Central Catholic.
Blake-West was the only individual swimmer in either division to break a championship meet record Sunday.
“Setting the meet record was one of my goals this season. Ideally I would have liked to have my best time here,” she said, disappointed that she didn’t reach her target of finishing in the low 55 second range which would have given her National High School All-American status.
“But I’m very happy how I swam. I couldn’t have asked for a better meet,” said Blake-West.
Equally impressive was Blake-West’s other individual victory in the 200 individual medley. In an event demanding proficiency in each stroke – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle – Blake-West took a one second lead after the butterfly leg and stretched her margin to win by more than three seconds, 2:08.26 to 2:11.40, over Petrozza in a personal best time.
Blake-West started the night’s action joining senior backstroke and co-captain Maya Nagashima, junior breaststroke Emily Quinn and freshman freestyle Alison Sawyer to propel the favorite Belmont 200 medley relay to victory over Bishop Stang and Bishop Feehan. Blake-West’s 25.27 for the butterfly leg distanced the other teams during the third leg.
But it was Blake-West’s final event, as anchor on the 100 freestyle relay with Sawyer, fellow freshman Ophelie Loblack and junior Solvay Metelmann that demonstrated just how dominating her performance was at Harvard. Her 24.13 leg was the fastest 50 yard freestyle not only in the event but would have won the open 50 freestyle event by .05 seconds, and pushed Belmont from sixth to fourth in 1:43.72, behind victorious Westwood in 1:41.42.
At the end of the meet, Blake-West was involved in collecting 110 of Belmont’s 239 total points.
“Jessie’s was remarkable tonight truly remarkable,” said Crosscup.
For the second-year running, Belmont brought the best contingency of breaststrokers to the meet as the Marauders took four of the first nine places in the 100 breaststroke final.
Leading the way was Quinn who stayed with the leaders for the entire distance and crept up a place in the final yards to finish 3rd in 1:08.41, behind upset victor junior Sienna Lapalme of Bishop Stang who defeated Bishop Feehan senior and Costa Rican national swimming member Marisa Reidmeister, 1:07.32 to 1:07.61.
Senior Klaudia Nagrabska finished fifth in 1:09.59, knocking three-and-a-half seconds off her season’s best, and senior Sarah Osborne took 9th in 1:12.86. The surprise for Belmont was sophomore Dervla Moore-Frederick. Swimming in the heat before the final, Moore-Frederick took two-and-a-half seconds off her qualifying time to finish in 1:12.26 in 8th.
The quartet brought Belmont 50 points.
Events where the Marauders also picked up multiple points were in the 500 free with senior co-captain Eunice Lee and juniors Sara Noorouzi (14th, 5:40.61) and Elizabeth Levy (16th, 5:42.17), Nagashima (7th) and Quinn (11th) joined Blake-West in the individual medley and the youngsters Sawyer (12th), Metelmann (14th) and Loblack (16th) in the 50 free sprint.
Crosscup pointed to the “outstanding effort” of Lee in the 200 free (2:05.36 in 15th) and the “marathon” 5o0 free in which she overtook two swimmers in the final 50 yards with a 32.96 second final lap to finish 10th in 5:36.48, an improvement of 13 seconds from her qualifying time.
Swimming her final event wearing a Marauder cap, fellow co-captain Nagashima took home seven points with a 10th (1:02.47) in her speciality, the 100 backstroke, while Loblack was one of only three freshmen in a flight of 22 swimmers to swim the 100 free final, coming in 13th in 57.75.
And those Marauders who didn’t earn points took in the experience of a state championship while bringing down their season bests. Noorouzi and Levy took a second off their 200 free times while sophomores Molly Thomas (50 free and 100 backstroke) and Allie Beecroft (500 free) improved on their qualifiers.
Over at the diving area, amidst the noise and ruckus of the swimmers, Belmont’s junior Cynthia Kelsey stayed in the lead group for the entire meet as she accumulated points with dives that brought 9s and 8 1/2 scores. The school’s record holder placed third with an 11-dive total of 437.20 points.
Interestingly, Kelsey finished behind the event’s repeat winner, junior Hannah Phelan (who broke the meet record this year with 537.05 points). Yet unlike last year when she dove for Walpole High, Phelan earned the 20 points for her new school – and Belmont’s rival – Bishop Feehan.
Despite the great swimming and diving throughout the meet, Belmont trailed Bishop Feehan by two points with the Shamrocks the heavy favorite in the meet’s final event, the 400 free relay.
With Belmont’s quickest swimmers having reached their four-event participation limit and the Marauders sending out three underclassmen (Loblack, Metelmann and Noorouzi) and Lee, the only realistic chance for a Belmont state title would have been from a false start or a disqualification by Bishop Feehan.
That did not occur as Belmont took 11th (in 3:53.25, a five second improvement from their season’s best) and Feehan finished on the top spot for both the relay and the team championship.
Yet the cheers and smiles were just as joyful on the Belmont side of the pool as the team hoisted their runner-up plaque for all to see.