By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP — The Mainland Regional girls swimming team knew it was in a David vs. Goliath situation at the NJSIAA Group B state championship meet at Gloucester County Institute of Technology on Sunday night against Summit.
The Hilltoppers are one of the best swimming programs in the state, and they showed why with a dominating 109-61 victory, collecting their first overall state championship and finishing off a 13-1 season. Senior Dagny Donaldson led the way, winning the 200 and 500 freestyle events as Summit scored 10 first-place finishes out of 11 events. Donaldson also was a part of two winning relays, the 200 and 400 freestyles.
Mainland (12-2) was within striking distance at the break, trailing just 36-26 after the first four events, but the Hilltoppers showed their depth and talent after the break, running away with the meet with wins in the 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 500 free.
“It’s just amazing. I’m so proud of everyone for trying their hardest and doing everything that’s led to this point. I’m just so proud of everyone,” said Mainland senior Alex Batty, who took fifth in the 500 freestyle event. “All of them are such amazing people. This is a great way to end our season, even though we didn’t win.”
That was the sentiment among most of the Mainland swimmers, particularly the seniors — they were thrilled to be competing for a state championship for the first time in their careers, and the first time in program history.
“This is awesome. This has been the most exciting season for me and it’s awesome that it’s my senior year and I’m able to go out like this. I’m really proud of this team,” said Cassidy Thomas, a member of one of Mainland’s 400 free relay teams. “This year, we talked about (getting to the state final), and I’m just happy we were able to make it here. It was exciting. We were confident but we knew they were really good. We’re happy to be South Jersey champs.”
“This team has truly been my family the past four years. We’re all so close, which I feel like makes us faster as team. We all cheer each other on every meet, we’re very positive, and I’m just excited that we made it this far. I’m very proud of all of us,” added Emma Barnhardt, another Mainland senior. “It’s so thrilling. Obviously, I’m a senior, so I’m excited that we were here. This opportunity was awesome.”
Mainland’s lone win came from Jordyn Ricciotti in the 200 IM, and the Mustangs also got second-places finishes from Alivia Wainwright in the 50 free and 100 butterfly, Ricciotti in the 500 free, Summer Cassidy in the 100 backstroke and the 400 free relay team of Ricciotti, Wainwright, Laci Denn and Monica Iordanov. All those swimmers are underclassmen, which bodes will for the future of the program.
“It’s really exciting. All of our hard work this season has led to this,” said senior Kyra White. “Summit is obviously a really good team, but this is the first time we’ve been in a state championship in program history, so it’s exciting. There has definitely been a lot of hard work put in, so it’s good to see that pay off. Today, we battled our best, and I’m proud of everyone. I’m excited to see what Mainland accomplishes next season.”
Mainland produced its best season ever, making it to the state final and suffering just one loss during the regular season, to Vineland when the Stangs didn’t have all their club swimmers available. So, there is plenty to look forward to when preseason starts again in November. For the graduating seniors, there will be plenty took look back on with pride.
“The highest points and the lowest points have all come during swimming, my happiest moments in high school and my hardest moments have all come from swimming. Being here today is really emotional, going to college next year and having to leave all these people I’ve been swimming with and working so hard with the last four years,” said senior Sophie Sherwood. “It’s so exciting to be part of such a great team. There are so many fast people who make you want to swim even faster. Making it here is really cool, knowing that we’re one of the top two teams in Group B in the state. I will definitely tell people that (down the road). Swimming is definitely the best part of my whole high school experience and something I’ll remember the most. I think this team is going to be just as good next year. Most of our swimmers are freshmen, sophomores and juniors. We have a lot of juniors this year who will be really good leaders next year. The team should be really good next year, and I’m excited for them.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @GDsullysays