The Mainland Regional boys swimming team and coach Brian Booth have been racking up their fair share of sectional titles the last five or six years and have established themselves as one of the top teams in South Jersey along the way. Mike Schiavo, coach of the Mainland girls team, figured it was about time his squad took home a trophy again.
The last time the Mustangs raised the sectional trophy was back in 2013, the year before Schiavo came over from Holy Spirit to lead the program. But that all changed Wednesday night when top-seeded Mainland cruised to a 122-48 victory over No. 6 Cherry Hill West in the South Jersey Group B championship meet at Gloucester County Institute of Technology. The Stangs benefitted from Cherry Hill West knocking off No. 2 Clearview in the semifinals, but the way Mainland swam it’s doubtful the Pioneers would have fared any better.
“We’ve run up against really good teams (in years past). In some ways we got lucky this year, but we’re really swimming well,” Schiavo said by phone after Wednesday’s meet. “We have a freshman, Alivia Wainwright, and a sophomore, Jordyn Ricciotti, who are really good at what they do, but really, we’re deep. We have a lot of really good swimmers. We’ve been putting together quality swims in all three lanes and with all 12 girls in our relays.”
“They were all swimming for their teammates, and that, to me, was this year’s reality.”
Mainland may have graduated the state Swimmer of the Year last year in Katie McClintock, but the Stangs have plenty of depth this year, and it showed against West. Mainland finished first in 10-of-11 events and took second in eight events. Wainwright won the 50 free and 100 butterfly events and Monica Iordanov took first in two other events, the 100 and 200 freestyles. Other individual winners included Ricciotti (200 IM), Laci Denn (500 free) and Summer Cassidy (100 back).
Schiavo said this season has been more challenging than he expected because covid-19 wiped out much of last year’s season, meaning this was the first full high school season for all the team’s freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s really tough to describe. This year, in many ways, was more difficult because the girls had forgotten what a grind the swim season is. It’s a long haul and a lot of work. We have two classes — and every team can say this — that really don’t know what a full high school season is like. Even this year’s juniors were freshmen the last time they experienced that, and a lot of times for first-year swimmers you get that deer-in-the-headlights look where everything is a blur. So, for me, as a coach, it’s been a struggle from the beginning to try to re-establish how much work has to go into these end-of-season goals we have, whether they be individual or team goals. It’s not easy. It’s tough, both physically and emotionally,” he said. “This year was tough, it really was, but the girls managed to find enough joy at our practices and during our regular-season dual meets. They found glimmers of confidence from time to time because their times kept dropping throughout the year. I’m hoping over the last two weeks of this season that they can find out how fun high school swimming can be.”
So, how does it feel to join coach Booth as a Mainland skipper who has won a sectional title?
“I get a kick out of any kid and any coach who gets to experience this. There is so much that goes into it that most people don’t understand. Those (championship) moments are fleeting and can be few and far between,” Schiavo said. “Brian and the boys have been able to enjoy that fairly regularly the last seven or eight years, and I can remember back when I was at Holy Spirit and we had a series of great teams in the early 2000s. It’s not easy to win, so hopefully the girls will appreciate it. I’m just happy to see them smiling and happy about their accomplishment. The joy that came out of this was awesome.”