Having broken through with its first-ever Mercer County Swimming Championships title last winter, the Princeton High girls’ swimming team was primed for an encore.
“I think we were all extremely motivated,” said PHS sophomore star Madeleine Deardorff, reflecting on the 2014 county meet which concluded last Saturday at WW/P-N. “We came in here with confidence.”
That confidence proved to be justified as PHS rolled to a second straight crown, piling up 222 points with Steinert second at 169 and WW/P-S taking third with 156.
Deardorff helped lead the way for the Little Tigers, taking first in the 200-meter individual medley and second in the 100 butterfly. Classmate Brianna Romaine set a meet record of 1:04.85 in winning the 100 backstroke and also placed third in the 100 freestyle. Freshman Melinda Tang won the 100 fly and took fourth in the 400 free.
Deardorff was all smiles as she reflected on PHS’s title repeat. “We did exactly what we wanted to do and I am really excited,” said Deardorff, who also helped PHS to wins in the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
“I think this team is so united and I think that we are all motivated towards each other. I think it is so great.”
“In winning the 200 IM, Deardorff enjoyed an exciting battle with Rabia Syed of WW/P-S, posting a winning time of 2:27.78 with Syed coming in at 2:29.13 as she earned her first individual county title.
“I came in and I just wanted to do my best,” said Deardorff. “Rabia and I are really good friends and I was really pumped. That was awesome, I was so happy with that.”
Although Deardorff placed second in the 100 fly, she was happy to duel with freshman teammate Tang.
“Melinda and I go on and off in that event,” said Deardorff. “It was really fun, I love racing her. She motivates me and I motivate her. I think it was really good.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his swimmers raced hard from the beginning to the end of the meet.
“The thing that I am most proud of is that in the trials/finals format they did so much two days ago and then came back today and swam lights out,” said Hand.
“They really just rose to the demands of the situation. We had so many swims where kids really challenged themselves to go out hard and to trust their training and come back and get a result and it happened throughout the meet.”
In Hand’s view, Deardorff exemplified the squad’s mental toughness.
“Maddie is such a versatile swimmer, all of her strokes are solid,” said Hand.
“She has been dealing with meet pain throughout recent training when she swims breaststroke, nonetheless she swam a really good breast leg in prelims and finals. The great thing about her race is that she was willing to take out the real strong piece in the fly as fast as she needed to and it is so easy to waste yourself in that.”
Romaine produced one of the great races of the day in her record-breaking win in the 100 back.
“Brianna is a real fighter,” asserted Hand. “She is a role model for kids both older and younger than she is because she is utterly unabashed about trying to get the result that she wants as far as her own swim is concerned.”
One of PHS’s younger stars, freshman Tang, certainly came up with some big swims. “Melinda, at least outwardly, just lets stuff roll off her back,” said Hand, who also got good efforts from freshmen Jamie Liu and Mattie Whaley at the county meet.
“She gets in and goes after it. She is always a spark plug for keeping things cheerful and relaxed which is quite a benefit in an environment like this.”
With PHS having been seeded first in the Public B Central Jersey sectional, Hand is hopeful that his team can do well in the high-stakes environment of the state tournament.
“Before it begins my sense is we are positioned reasonably well but it is a real grind to keep it together, focused and to try to bring a better meet every time out,” said Hand, whose team is 9-0 in dual meet competition this season and is slated to host eighth-seeded Holmdel on February 6 in the sectional quarterfinals.
Deardorff, for her part, is confident that PHS can build on its effort in the counties as it looks to make a deep run in the state tourney.
“I think we have the potential to go very far this year and I am really excited about it,” said Deardorff.
“I just want to go in with a lot of confidence and do the best we can. I think that everybody needs to do their absolute best and do what we did coming into this.”