Despite having advanced competitors to all 11 ‘A’ finals last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships, the Princeton High girls’ squad realized that didn’t guarantee the program’s first county crown.
“We knew we were strong this year but again, we have never done it before so we really wanted to just try our best and see if we could do it for the first time,” said PHS senior standout Marisa Giglio.
Getting off to a strong start by winning the opening event, the 200 medley relay, and setting a school record in the process, gave the Little Tigers confidence that they could produce a title breakthrough.
“We were a little bit nervous going in,” said Giglio, reflecting on the medley which posted a time of 2:04.58 with Giglio swimming the breaststroke leg. “Once we won it we were like we can do this guys. I think it did set a tone.”
Buoyed by that triumph, PHS went on to do enough to win the meet, tallying 200 points to beat 12-time champion WW/P-S by 36 points.
While the Little Tigers didn’t have an individual winner, they displayed the depth of a champion. Giglio placed third in the 200 individual medley and second in the 100 backstroke while classmate Serena Deardorff placed third in the 50 freestyle and second in the butterfly. Precocious freshman stars, Briana Romaine and Madeleine Deardorff, Serena’s younger sister, made key contributions with Romaine placing third in the 200 free and second in the 100 free while the younger Deardorff took second in both the 400 free and 100 breast.
PHS did end the day on a high note, taking first in the 400 free relay as Giglio, Romaine, and the two Deardorffs posted a winning time of 4:05.54, another school record.
“We really wanted to get another first in the relays,” said Giglio, reflecting on the quartet’s mindset as they approached the race.
“We weren’t completely confident that we had won. We wanted to break the record again. We were all filled with nervous excitement and energy. We were ready to go.”
Although Giglio didn’t achieve an individual victory, she was excited by her IM and backstroke races.
“I just wanted to go fast in the IM, I know Paige Anderson [of Hopewell Valley] and Taylor Johnson [of Robbinsville] are very fast because I have been swimming with them my whole life,” said Giglio.
“We are all really good friends. It is always nice competition. I felt good in the back. I was racing Paige and I was competitive with her. I was also happy with that race.”
In Giglio’s view, PHS’s nice blend of veteran performers and talented newcomers has paved the way to the county title. “It is a pretty good mix of people this year,” said Giglio.
“We have the young people who are bringing a lot of energy and excitement to their first counties. And then we have a lot of seniors who obviously know what we are doing and try to steer the freshman excitement in the right direction.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand was excited to see his girls’ squad produce its breakthrough moment.
“To win a championship is always going to depend on who else was there that day,” said Hand. “To swim to win it is a very special thing.”
Winning the medley relay set the tone for the special day to follow. “I was amazed by what the medley relay did,” asserted Hand.
“We swam a nice time yesterday and we broke that by six seconds. The girls decided to go back to a lineup that we had started the season with and it sure paid off.”
Seeing his swimmers end the meet with a resounding win in the 400 free provided another amazing moment for Hand.
“To bookend it and come back and swim such a terrific relay which broke a school record was just so impressive,” asserted Hand.
“We have Madeleine coming back right after the breaststroke. Marisa was coming back two events after the backstroke. It is always true at this meet for all teams, everybody was tired. They just really stepped up and I hope they know that the dues they have paid in the pool really show on occasions like this.”
Hand was not surprised to see his swimmers rise to the occasion. “They are athletes in the full sense of the word,” said Hand. “They have great team spirit. They swim to do their best; they don’t worry too much.”
PHS will be hoping to carry that winning spirit into the upcoming state Public B tournament.
“I think that this can really help,” said Hand, whose team has been seeded second in the upcoming Central Jersey Public B sectional with Chatham being moved into the sectional and receiving the No. 1 seed.
“If we swim Lawrence and get through them, we may be swimming against Chatham, who has a 1,000 power point differential on us. I have never seen anybody make that up. If that is in the cards, the only way to end the season is to give everything you can to beat the team you are swimming against.”
Giglio, for her part, believes the county triumph will inspire the Little Tigers to give even more in the state competition.
“I think it gives our team a little bit of confidence that maybe we didn’t have coming into it,” said Giglio.
“We have had some competitive meets but it hasn’t been that hard for us. This is definitely one of the ones we were looking forward to the most. It definitely sets the tone for things to come. The kids on the team are really hard working and willing to put in the extra mile to get as far as we can.”