Vol. LXII, No. 9
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
TURNING THE PAIGE: Princeton High senior star Paige Johnson races through the water in PHS 97-73 win over Point Pleasant Beach in the Public B sectional semifinals. Last Thursday, Johnson finished second in the 100 butterfly but it wasnt enough as PHS fell 98-72 to Haddonfield in the Public B state semifinals. While disappointed by the outcome last Thursday, Johnson was thrilled by a season that exceeded early expectations.
This past December, Paige Johnson didnt sense that the Princeton High girls swimming team was headed for big things.
I think we started the season with a negative feeling; the question was how would we perform because we lost so many people from last years team, said Johnson, a PHS senior co-captain.
That definitely set us back, particularly when we went against one of our toughest opponents, Notre Dame. At that point, we were far apart.
The Little Tigers, though, righted the ship, piling up dual meet wins and taking third at the Mercer County Swimming Championships.
PHS brought the No. 1 seed in the Public B Central Jersey sectional and cruised to wins in its first two meets. In the sectional final, the Little Tigers nipped Ocean Township 88-82 in a thrilling meet which saw PHS produce a pool record in the 400 freestyle relay to break a 78-78 tie.
Last Thursday, PHS faced powerful Haddonfield at the WW/P-N pool and it became clear early that the meet wasnt going to be a cliffhanger like the sectional final. The Little Tigers found itself trailing 12-2 after the meets first event and never got closer than 35-27 as Haddonfield pulled away to a 98-72 win.
While many PHS swimmers shed tears on the deck afterward, sadly exclaiming its over, its over, Johnson was all smiles as she put things in perspective.
I guess you could say that we were surprised that we were here in the first place, said Johnson.
At the beginning of the season we didnt actually know how far we could get. Being one of the four teams that made it this far is a huge accomplishment.
Johnson acknowledged that the deep Haddonfield squad posed a huge challenge for the Little Tigers.
I think the first relay set the tone for the rest of the meet, they went 1-2 and we got third, recalled Johnson.
We kept confident through the whole meet but when it got to the backstroke we knew there was no way we could win the meet. We kept it together, we kept supporting each other.
Johnson, who took second in the 100 butterfly, had to hold it together when she swam a leg in the 400 free relay, the meets final event.
I was standing there thinking this is the last time I will ever swim, said Johnson, who isnt planning to swim in college.
I thought about it for about 10 seconds but by the time I got into the water, it didnt feel like it was the last time. I got out of the pool and I thought, yeah, well just come in tomorrow for practice.
It was some bonding during and after practice that helped the Little Tigers ultimately become a force.
We were doing a lot of stuff to become closer; that was definitely helpful, said Johnson.
We talked a lot; there were a lot of discussions after practice trying to keep everybody upbeat with everything. We did pysch every meet, sometimes we put our hair up in water bottles. Two days ago we had hand prints on our faces because Mr. Hand is our coach.
PHS head coach Greg Hand appreciated what Johnson has done to help bring the team together.
Paige has been a stalwart for us, said Hand, whose team finished the season with an 11-4 record as it won its fifth straight sectional title.
Shes been the deck captain; shes been at all the practices. In that sense shes able, more than the kids who are in club swimming, to be in touch with and respond to everything that comes up on the deck everyday. There are challenges that every team is going to face and figuring out how to lead and as a group of captains, they sorted out things remarkably well.
In Hands view, his team competed remarkably well as it battled Haddonfield.
Regardless of what happened in the medley relay, I dont see that as a factor in how we swam today, said Hand, who got first place finishes from Jordan Shapiro in the 50 and 100 free while Victoria Cassidy prevailed in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke and Kathleen Morrison won the 200 free.
I think the meet developed as might have been expected in terms of the scoreboard. I thought our faster kids did a great job of competing with their faster kids. There were five individual firsts and those were not easy races by any means. The girls on the inside lanes came in second as well so we had some really nice swimming there too.
PHS displayed some nice swimming as it advanced through the tournament.
The states run was really demanding, said Hand.
Shore was pretty easy but everything after that was really hard. Point Pleasant Beach was not an easy meet by any means; thats when we started swimming fast I would say. Ocean was a phenomenal meet. The message from the coaches to the team at the end of that meet was that we would not have won the sectional on talent alone; that it requires the commitment that these girls had to be the best they could. I cant think of anything that a high school team can be prouder of.
Hand credited senior leaders, Johnson, Morrison, Shapiro, and Elizabeth Cava with helping to spark that level of commitment.
They are genuinely fine people whose adult lives are going to be terrific because they are already marvelous people, said Hand.
There is integrity, kindness, and consideration. There is a commitment to their own personal excellence; there is the willingness to be enthusiastic even if thats not their natural style. I was thinking last night that I have been lucky that these kids are part of the team. I am so much less responsible for anything they did than they are responsible for the results of the team.
Johnson, for her part, didnt want to let go of that team feeling. It hasnt sunk in that its over, said Johnson.
A lot of people were crying and stuff and I dont know why Im not crying. It seems like well go to practice tomorrow and work hard. We ended on such a good note. Ill probably go home and cry and then it will sink in.
If Johnson did cry when she got home, there should have been tears of joy mixed with those of sadness.
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