March 1, 2023

Senior Standout Cai Enjoys Memorable Ride as PHS Girls’ Swimmers Win State Title, Go 14-0

PERFECT ENDING: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Beatrice Cai displays her breaststroke form in a race this season. Last Saturday, senior star Cai placed third in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 butterfly to help third-seeded PHS defeat top-seeded Chatham 91-79 in New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group B state final. PHS ended the season with a 14-0 record as it earned the program’s first girls’ state title since 1993. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Things were quiet around the Princeton High girls’ swim team as it went on a bus ride last Saturday morning down to the Gloucester County Institute of Technology pool for a battle of unbeatens against Chatham in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group B state final.

“It was very early in the morning so it wasn’t that loud, a lot of people were still tired, getting up early,” said PHS senior star Beatrice Cai. “Our boys’ team had gone against Chatham last year in the state finals and they lost, so we kind of wanted to win this for the boys. We were all very nervous about that part.”

Once on the deck at GCIT, the Tigers started to make noise.

“In the beginning we were very fired up during our cheer,” said Cai. “We knew we had to get it started from the very beginning, there was nothing to hold back on.”

Third-seeded PHS got off to a good start as it went one-three in the 200-yard medley relay in the meet’s first event to take an apparent 10-4 lead. The advantage was increased to 12-2 as first-seeded Chatham’s top relay was subsequently disqualified.

“I think it motivated a lot of our other swimmers,” said Cai, reflecting on the 200 medley relay DQ. “Obviously it is still going to be a really close meet.”

That triumph set the tone for the meet as PHS went on to prevail 91-79 to earn the first state title since 1993 for the girls’ team and end the winter with a 14-0 record.

“I think we had a good balance across all of the events,” said Cai reflecting on the qualities that made the team special. “We had strong swimmers from the 200 free and all of the way throughout until the 100 breaststroke. There wasn’t any event where we were lacking. The camaraderie we had was something that definitely supported our success.”

Cai, for her part, produced some strong swims in the win, taking third in both the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.

“I was very close to second in the IM, like 0.03, it was a little bit of a touch out,” said Cai. “It was the best time for me, so I was happy with that. It was a good swim. Having Courtney [Weber] touch first, it was a good event for us. I did the 100 fly and I was third. I was pretty happy with that, it was around my best time.”

With PHS having piled up 85 points coming into the meet’s final event, the 400 freestyle relay, Cai savored getting the chance to end her career swimming the lead-off leg for the PHS ‘A’ relay in the race and help clinch a title.

“It is the last event, everyone is waiting to be done but this was still a very important event for us,” said Cai, who helped the quartet take second and secure the state crown. “At the time when I looked at the score, we had 85 so that was little bit of a comforting thing to see. Going into the last relay, I was still a little nervous and a little sentimental.”

Afterwards, the Tigers let loose with a raucous celebration on the deck.

“It is crazy; we were always talking about it and our coach (Carly Misiewicz) was reminding us in the bus that this hasn’t been done in 30 years,” said Cai. “We put all of the effort into it, and seeing all of our efforts be rewarded was really nice. Everyone was so happy. We were jumping up and down and immediately pushed the coaches into the pool.”

PHS head coach Misiewicz saw her team’s 97-73 win over Shawnee in the Group B semis on February 21 as a harbinger of things to come in the final.

“They were up there, they are a very, very talented team; another team I thought we matched up really well against,” said Misiewicz referring to Shawnee. “Going into it, we thought it could go either way. We had the confidence that we wanted to win. They gave us a really good meet, we did the exact same thing to them. Maybe our girls were just a little bit hungrier.”

The Tigers displayed that hunger against Chatham. “As soon as we got down there, we knew that we were so capable of winning,” said Misiewicz. “Everything just aligned perfectly this year. The mood and the energy was just pure excitement and adrenaline. There was a little bit of nerves and jitters but once you get that medley relay out of the way, going one-three, it was OK, we are in this. It is 10-4, we are up six. This is good, this is where we wanted to be and then all of a sudden I hear them announce that the score is 12-2. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what happened?’”

Good things kept happening for PHS as junior star Weber took first the 100 breaststroke along with her win in the 200 IM, junior Kyleigh Tangen placed first in both the 50 and 100 free races, and Jesse Wang won the 100 backstroke.

A pivotal moment in the meet came when Weber and senior Annie Zhao went one-two in the 100 breast.

“We had 73 going into the breaststroke and once it started shaking out it was if we go one-two-three, that is it,” said Misiewicz. “We want one-two-four and that put us to 85. At that point, all we needed was third place in the 400 free relay. We basically needed no one to get disqualified and we had pretty much secured the win.”

In securing the title, team unity and talent proved to be hallmarks of the success enjoyed by the Tigers.

“The chemistry and our depth were the two major contributing factors,” said Misiewicz. “The best way to really describe it is that this whole season was such a team collaboration, a team effort. Sure we have this person who is an all-star or that person who is an all-star. But at the end of the day, it is how they came together that resulted in us being able to finish off with a perfect season and a state championship.”

Misiewicz relished getting the chance to help the squad come together.

“They were always able to find that next gear and when they didn’t think they had enough and they were thinking they had already gone their best time, they were able to go even faster,” said Misiewicz, who is in her ninth season as the head coach of the PHS girls’ and boys’ swim teams. “It was just incredible to see and I feel very, very lucky and very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach a group of girls like that. I feel truly lucky because not everyone can say that they have such a great experience.”

Cai, for her part, has enjoyed a memorable ride over the last four years.

“It is full circle, it wasn’t even initially a goal like oh I want to win states when I was a freshman,” said Cai. “But having that be my last year and my last race, it feels like a good, complete end to my high school career. I am very, very happy.”