The Holton-Arms girls’ swim team could have lost the 400-yard freestyle relay and still won the Independent School League championships. The Panthers didn’t have to place second or third either. As long as they weren’t disqualified in the meet’s final event, they would claim their fourth ISL title in six years.

But Holton-Arms had more to swim for than a league crown. On Jan. 10, the Panthers lost to Madeira — their only dual-meet defeat — after dropping the same event. The swimmers and coaches viewed the result as a wake-up call, determined to rectify their mistakes before the ISL meet and turn that disappointment into jubilation.

That plan came to fruition as senior Sydney Mathis, who anchored the relay, touched the wall at 3:32.28, setting a meet record and prompting her teammates to cry tears of joy to cap their 294-point first-place performance Friday afternoon in Bethesda. Madeira, which won last year, finished second (265 points), while Flint Hill (190 points) came in third.

“It wasn’t even the fact that we won the meet,” Mathis said. “It was the fact that everybody went best times, everybody had put everything they could into the pool just to make sure that we had this in the bag, and it was such an amazing feeling.

“I would relive that moment 10 times over if I could.”

Part of the squad’s elation stemmed from the devastation Mathis said the swimmers felt after the loss to Madeira during the regular season. Holton-Arms didn’t have as many girls scoring as their opponent, so the meet came down to the final relay. The Panthers fell behind to start the event, and sophomore Olivia Jubin couldn’t make up enough ground on the final leg. 

“I really think that might have been a turning point in our season,” Coach Graham Westerberg said. “I was able to turn to the team and say, ‘You know, maybe we’re not as good as we think we are.’”

After Westerberg met with the captains — Mathis, Olivia Barnello and Erin Davis — the Panthers had a quick team meeting. In the room was a white board, and the captains wrote out the point system for places one through six in each event. Winning the event remained important, but they emphasized earning as many points as possible by finishing near the top. 

The message resonated with the Panthers, who displayed their increased work ethic in front of Westerberg at practice. He noticed their flip turns and starts were better. So were their strokes. To Mathis, everyone grew invested in maximizing their scoring potential.

It showed Friday, as Panthers swimmers crowded near the top in multiple events. They took the first three places in the 50-yard freestyle even though Erica Robinson — who finished third — swam in a heat that wasn’t supposed to produce any scorers. They took second and third in the 100-yard butterfly and second and fourth in the 100-yard freestyle. 

Holton-Arms also performed well enough in the relays, ensuring its swimmers could celebrate at the conclusion of the 12th and final event.

“I was truly overwhelmed with joy,” Jubin said. “I’m still kind of in denial. Like I can’t believe we actually won.”

Less than 24 hours after the meet, the captains sent an email congratulating the team on its accomplishment. They also asked the swimmers to refocus for the Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swim Dive League championships, which the Panthers have won three of the past four years. After that, they’ll compete at Metros. 

Each meet presents another opportunity for Holton-Arms to show how it has progressed since its lone dual-meet loss in early January.

“I think [ISLs] was kind of a wake-up call,” Mathis said. “Like if we all try really hard and stay together and swim for our team, we can get stuff done.

“We’re definitely not done there.”

The Big Number: 202

Points Holton-Arms scored at last year’s ISL championships when it finished third behind Madeira and Flint Hill. Behind increased depth and consistency across events, Westerberg said, the Panthers put up a 294 in this year’s league meet, beating Madeira by 29. 

Swimmer of the Week:

Sydney Mathis, Holton-Arms, Sr.

Mathis, one of three team captains, played a significant role in Holton-Arms regaining the ISL title. She set the meet record for the 50-yard freestyle (23.56) and placed second in the 100-yard freestyle, second in the 200-yard freestyle relay and first in the 400-yard freestyle relay. 

A family affair in Prince George’s County

As soon as Bill Bayly heard his uncle had accepted the Bowie boys’ and girls’ coaching job, he hatched the idea.

With Bill Bayly and his sister Krissie at the helm of the Pallotti program, and Kevin Bayly and their other sister Maura at Bowie, the opportunity arose for a family meet between the Prince George’s County schools.

“It wasn’t a joke,” said Patti Bayly, Bill, Krissie and Maura’s mother and herself a longtime high school swim coach. “It was like, ‘This would be cool. Let’s do this.’”

The two sides scheduled the meet at the beginning of the season, and it went on as planned Friday afternoon at Pallotti. The light-hearted, out-of-conference event elicited family banter, childhood memories and the crescendo relay, which isn’t part of high school swimming meets but has been a staple at the Bowie City Meet every summer for decades.

Bill and Maura Bayly have already talked about making the Bayly-vs.-Bayly meet an annual occurrence.  

“The atmosphere, I thought, was awesome,” Bill Bayly said. “We don’t really know them, but we felt like we knew them because a lot of kids swam with each other in the summertime. I thought it was electric.”

The Baylys’ swimming lineage dates back to Bill and Maura’s grandfather, Bill Campbell, who founded the University of Maryland’s swimming and diving program in 1955. Patti Bayly coached at Bowie from 1997 to 2005 and was involved with swimming around the area for 36 years before retiring last summer. Each of her four children swam in high school. 

“We’ve all been around swimming forever,” Bill Bayly said. 

Patti Bayly assisted Bill when he became Pallotti’s coach in 2014, and Krissie joined the staff about two years later when her mother underwent surgery and couldn’t coach anymore. 

Kevin Bayly wasn’t even involved with swimming at that point. A teacher at Bowie, he coached the boys’ lacrosse team to the first county championship last season. So when he became the Bulldogs swim coach, he immediately brought in Maura, who teaches 4-year olds at St. Jude’s in Rockville, to help out.

The family members reunited Friday afternoon for what Patti Bayly called a “non-stress” meet, while the swimmers competed against some familiar faces. Some of Pallotti’s roster swam in Bowie growing up before attending the private high school in Laurel. Some also swim with Bowie athletes over the summer. 

Bill Bayly hyped up the event at the team’s first team meeting of the season, telling his swimmers his sister and uncle thought Bowie would “walk all over us.” The friendly trash talk continued the day of the event, as Bill sent a short text to Maura. The message read: “bring your A squad.” 

“This is my brother, this is my sister,” Maura remembers telling the Bowie swimmers. “We have to win, or I’m never going to live it down.”

The results were split, as the Pallotti boys and the Bowie girls won, but the real excitement came during the crescendo relay.

Both schools selected one boy and one girl from every grade, and the eight swimmers each raced the 50-yard freestyle. The lead switched hands multiple times, but Bowie pulled away during one of the legs and held on for the victory. 

Round 1 to Kevin and Maura.

“The kids went out of their minds,” Patti Bayly said. “They thought they won the meet. It wasn’t even pointed. They just went crazy.”