Richard Montgomery Coach Aryn Wheeler watched the 400-yard freestyle relay with a mixture of nervousness and confidence during Saturday’s 4A/3A Maryland state swimming championships.
It was the last boys’ event, and Wheeler knew her squad needed a top-3 finish in the race to clinch its third state title in four seasons.
Her poolside cheers at Maryland’s Eppley Recreation Center combined with the team’s season-long preparation paid off as the group was the third to touch the wall. Churchill won the event, and would have earned a share of the team title had the Rockets finished fourth.
Instead, the Rockets produced 289 points to win their second consecutive trophy , while the Bulldogs (287) took second and Bethesda-Chevy Chase (196) was third.
“All you can do as a coach is try to pump them up and get them motivated,” Wheeler said, “and then they have to take it from there.”
The Rockets tried to ignore the pressure of repeating, Wheeler said, but they knew Churchill, which beat them to finish second at Metros on Feb. 11, would be a formidable foe. Multiple victories in the College Park pool helped the Rockets cap their undefeated dual season with a final win.
The Rockets started by winning the 200 medley relay. A few races later, senior Kenny Afolabi-Brown finished first in the 50 free in 21.45 seconds. The team also claimed the 200 free relay.
Junior Jack Rose had perhaps the most impressive individual slate, winning the 100 back in 51.41 and taking third in the 500 free. In his win, Rose pulled ahead on the final lap to out-touch Clarksburg senior Michael Wong by .02 seconds.
“I was really scared because I knew it was going to be close,” Rose said. “I knew I just had to speed it up and use as much energy as I had left.”
On the girls’ side, Walter Johnson ensured there would be no repeat. The Wildcats finished with 292 points to prevail over 2016 champion Sherwood (246) and Blair (228).
After the Wildcats claimed their first Metros title since at least 1997 earlier this month, Coach Jamie Grimes let the girls shave a paw print and “CHAMPS” into his hair and give him a Mohawk.
Senior captain Celine Nugent, who was second in the 100 free (51.66) and the 200 IM, appreciated Grimes’ encouragement.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Nugent said. “I never though this moment would come, but when our coach told us we had a chance, we really worked up as a team to try to get there.”
Girls’ double winners included Blair senior Madison Waechter won the 200 and 500 free. Quince Orchard freshman Catherine Belyakov and Churchill senior Emily Wang set state records in the 200 IM (2:03.81) and 100 fly (55.18), respectively.
Other boys’ winners included Wootton senior Alex Li (200 and 500 free) and Quince Orchard junior Eli Fouts (100 fly and 100 breast). Walter Johnson senior Timmy Ellett set a state record in the 200 IM (1:52.61), while Gaithersburg senior Brandon Cu won the 100 free for the third consecutive season.
Churchill’s Mory Gould (474.55) won the boys’ diving championship and Oakdale’s Melissa Novak (420.05) won the girls’ title.