Madeleine Deardorff and her teammates on the Princeton High girls’ swimming team looked forward to the challenge posed by Chatham last Thursday in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals.
“We knew they were amazing coming in,” said freshman star Deardorff. “I think we all came in really psyched up and we all wanted to swim our best. I think we were all really motivated.”
As Deardorff toed the starting blocks for the 100 butterfly and the fifth event of the meet at the Neptune Aquatic Center, second-seeded PHS already trailed No. 1 Chatham 39-23.
The precocious freshman, though, was undaunted, outdueling Kara Miller-Radest to win the race by 2.08 seconds.
“At each turn, I would see that she was coming,” said Deardorff, recalling the thrilling race which saw her clock a winning time of 58.41. “I just gave it my all and I saw what came out of it. I was happy.”
Even though PHS ended up losing the meet 112-58 to suffer its only defeat of the season, Deardorff was happy with the team’s performance. “I think this was one of our best meets and people swam best times,” said Deardorff.
“We were all really excited with our swims; I think this was a great way to top off the season.”
Fellow freshman Briana Romaine earned PHS’s other individual victory in the meet as she placed first in the 100 freestyle. The Little Tigers also prevailed in the 200 medley relay.
Deardorff produced another superb swim herself later in the meet when she took second in the 100 breaststroke by a mere .04 to Anna Dexheimer. “I was really exhausted but she was too,” said Deardorff.
“I think I just tried my best. I knew they were fast. I was just sprinting and giving it my all. I did not hold back at all.”
In producing a superb freshman campaign, Deardorff hasn’t held back. “The biggest challenges were that I knew a lot of the swimmers on the other teams; I knew that they were fast and that some of them were older,” said Deardorff, who also competes for the X-Cel swim club.
“I think that was really challenging and just nerves. Having two meets per week is definitely different.”
Having her older sister, senior star Serena, on the team helped Deardorff thrive this winter.
“It has been great,” said Deardorff. “I have seen her go throughout the years at PHS and I have always been excited to come here and have this season with her. It was really exciting.”
The seniors kept up the excitement to the end on Thursday. “The seniors are great leaders this year,” said Deardorff.
“They motivated us. They were really helpful with this loss, making sure that we didn’t get down on ourselves.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand tipped his hat to the contributions made by the seniors this winter in a season that saw PHS go 13-1 and win its first-ever county title.
“It is always wonderful to have kids who get it and the group that we are graduating has been such a great group because they all got it from the start,” said Hand, whose senior group included Marisa Giglio, Victoria Carroll, Felicia He, and Corey Allikas, in addition to Serena Deardorff.
“They have grown up as people. They came in understanding it is about team and about hard work and that fun follows from that. They didn’t come in demanding to have fun; they came in asking the right things of themselves.”
Serena Deardorff and Giglio showed the right stuff as they piled up a slew of points for PHS over their careers. In the loss to Chatham, Deardorff took second in the 50 free and third in the 500 free while Giglio placed second in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke.
“Serena and Marisa have been real stars, they are very fast swimmers who have trained with a club for many years,” said Hand.
“They have put a lot into the sport and I hope it continues to give a lot back to them, they have earned that.”
Even in defeat, PHS put a lot into their effort last Thursday. “We were looking for a team attitude, an individual attitude that says the right thing about what the season meant to us and what the team means to us,” said Hand.
“We saw that tonight. The girls were happy during the meet, the score notwithstanding, because everybody was into it. We really have some ferocious competitors on this team, no matter how fast they go. Today there was real excitement in the water. I felt that a few days ago, that this would be an exciting dual meet even if the score wasn’t very close and I think they created that by the way they swam. You can tell when somebody is going all out and they were.”
Hand is excited about the program’s outlook going forward. “I feel great about the future as far as the kids we have got and who they are and what they try to do everyday,” said Hand.
“You can see with a team like Chatham to win at this level, you need three great entries in each event and it is rare to be able to put that together. If you have kids who do what you want kids to do on a high school team, then you know that this side of education is working and sports really matters.”
Deardorff, for her part, believes that PHS can reach an even higher level of success in the future.
“I know a few girls who swim that are in eighth and seventh grade so we do have some people coming up and I think that is really encouraging for us,” said Deardorff.
“We definitely are really losing some really fast swimmers but I think we will be able to handle that. Winning our first counties really helped to get our spirits up; it really motivated us for next year.”