February 28, 2024

PHS Girls’ Swimming Edged by Chatham in State Final As Tangen’s Sprinting Prowess Thrills to the Last Stroke

SPRINTING STAR: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Kyleigh Tangen heads to victory in the 100-yard freestyle at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group B state final last Sunday at the Rutgers Aquatics Center. Tangen also placed first in the 50 free as the Tigers fell just short of winning their second straight state title, losing 89-81 to Chatham in a meet that came down to the final event. PHS finished the season with a 14-1 record. 

By Bill Alden

As the roar of the crowd packing the Rutgers Aquatics Center hit ear-splitting levels last Sunday afternoon with the state title rematch between Princeton High girls’ swimming team and Chatham coming down to the final event, Kyleigh Tangen kept her mind on the task at hand.

With PHS trailing Chatham 79-77 as the foes hit the water for the 400-yard freestyle relay, Tiger senior Tangen stood in the blocks ready to swim the anchor leg, surveying the situation.

Tangen knew that PHS had to rally to get a 1-3 finish to pull out the win and earn a second straight New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group B state crown.

“The 100 is long enough for me to be able to catch up to her,” said Tangen. “I have a shot, that is what I was thinking. I was watching our team in lane three and I was hoping that they would get us into that third spot. As the relay progressed, we just inched closer and closer to Chatham and the hope just kept building and building.”

Flying off the block, Tangen churned through the water, gaining on Chatham’s Kiera Harkins, pulling nearly even as they headed to the wall. But Tangen came up inches short as Chatham ended up placing 1-3 in the relay to pull out a thrilling 89-81 win.

While the defeat stung, Tangen was proud of what the Tigers accomplished as they went 14-1, won a third straight county crown, and advanced to the state final for a second straight year.

“With every meet that we won, we got more and more encouraged and ready to take on the next,” said Tangen. “That is what we went into this meet feeling. Everybody was really nervous, but nervousness pushes you. I saw amazing swims all across the board. This being my last meet competing as a team, it is so nice to conclude the season at this final meet.”

Tangen produced two great swims, placing first in both the 50 and 100 free races.

“Both of the times that I swam today were the fastest I have ever swum,” said Tangen, who is looking forward to competing in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology pool. “Historically I have always swam the fastest I have ever swum at this meet.”

Competing with her PHS teammates has also helped Tangen increase her speed.

“I think we all can surprise ourselves and we are all really, really good at racing,” said Tangen. “Being so equally matched up is a really huge advantage to everybody on the team. We all swim so much faster when we have somebody right next to us.”

Looking back on her PHS career, Tangen views the 91-79 win over Chatham in last year’s state final as a huge highlight.

“That one was so special, we kept building on everything,” said Tangen. “At counties sophomore year, we won and it was the first time in a long time that we had won counties. Then junior year, we win states. It is like what more can we do.”

Although the Tigers didn’t make it two straight state titles, PHS head coach Carly (Misiewicz) Fackler credited her swimmers with doing everything they could in the final.

“Across the board, there were so many lifetime bests and I think that is what happens when you are in the moment and you are swimming for your team,” said Fackler. “I always stress to them, ‘It is not about your time today. Your times are irrelevant, they don’t matter. It is about beating the person next to you.’ I really, truly could not be more proud of them.”

Fackler knew the Tigers faced a tall order in beating Chatham as the undefeated powerhouses were on a collision course all winter.

“We were converging to the point that we knew were probably going to meet again at this point,” said Fackler. “Every race, every set, every warm up, warm down in practice is geared towards moments like this.”

Tangen provided the Tigers with some great moments in the final.

“Kyleigh swam her heart out, she had the relay swim of a lifetime,” said Fackler. “She never ceases to amaze me — 23.7 in the 50 free in winning that and winning the 100 free. They were lifetime bests for her. At this point that is all you could ever ask for. I think if she had another four or five yards in the relay, she would have had her.”

Fackler got several other great swims in the final as senior Courtney Weber placed first in the 200 individual medley and sophomore Nia Zagar won the 100 breaststroke.

“Courtney had a great IM, Nia had a great IM and great breaststroke,” said Fackler. “Jesse [Wang] in the IM, going 1-3-4 in that was huge. Sabine [Ristad] had a great backstroke, a great 50 free. It was the same thing with Lauren [Girouard] in the backstroke, getting in there for fifth place.”

The squad’s crew of seniors has made a great impact on the program.

“They are the greatest group of girls you could ever ask for, they are such a great group just personality-wise,” said Fackler, whose senior group included Tangen, Weber, Girouard, Wang, Suri Skomra, and Nora Chen. “Once you throw in their abilities and their dedication, they have really helped build the foundation in what is Princeton High School swimming and what is the excellence that we hope to continue.”

The Tigers displayed that excellence as they battled to the end in a second straight run to a state final.

“We kept our season going as long as possible, we swam our hearts out today,” said Fackler. “I don’t think that there was any race that I would look back on and say coulda, shoulda, woulda.”

For Tangen, the deep bonds she developed with her classmates made racing for PHS a pleasure.

“I would like to say thank you to all of the senior girls especially,” said Tangen. “It has been such a fun ride and I am going to miss them all so much. I am happy that we had the maximum amount of meets this year so I could keep swimming with all of them.”