For 75 yards, three lengths of the Takoma Aquatic Center pool, Holton-Arms School sophomore Caroline McTaggart and Our Lady of Good Counsel senior Catherine Mulquin raced side by side, face to face with every breath.
The anchor of their respective Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving League meet finale 400-yard freestyle relay squads, the objective was clear: win the race, win the competition.
McTaggart was admittedly fatigued but with less than 20 yards to the finish, she said she found one last burst.
Holton won the relay by .83 seconds and with it the program’s first ever WMPSSDL title.
The Panthers finished with 294.5 points ahead of the eight-time defending champion Good Counsel with 294 points in what was the closest final in WMPSSDL meet history.
Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart move up a spot from 2012 to take third place with 282.5 points and St. John’s (189 points) and Sidwell Friends (149) finished fourth and fifth.
“That [race] was really intense. We were on the same side of the lane...I’m feeling it now. But that’s what you practice for,” McTaggart said. “This is so fantastic, it’s such an honor to be a part of this team and to win for the first time ever.”
Gonzaga won its third straight WMPSSDL title with a 500-319 advantage over Georgetown Prep in second place. Good Counsel (282), Bishop O’Connell (259) and DeMatha Catholic (170) rounded out the top five on the boys side.
Holton, which trailed Good Counsel by 32 points after the diving portion of the competition, rebounded well Saturday from last weekend’s second-place finish to Stone Ridge at the Independent School League meet; the Panthers were champions eight of the previous nine years, including in 2012.
McTaggart was missing from that lineup, however, after accepting an invitation to the USA Swimming National Select Camp held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Her presence Saturday made a huge difference.
Saturday’s competition was exciting, overall, as no one team dominated in terms of event wins. Gonzaga won three races while Holton only took first in two. There were six different winners in eight individual races on both the boys and girls side.
“We knew our top end swimmers would perform. The team won on depth and that is something we take pride in,” Holton coach Graham Westerberg said.
After a subpar performance en route to a sixth-place finish at last weekend’s National Catholic High School Championships, Georgetown Prep seems to be finding its stride right on time, coach Matt Mongelli said.
Good Counsel senior Jack Conger (50-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly), Mulquin (100-yard freestyle, 100-yard backstroke), Stone Ridge sophomore Katie Ledecky (200-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly) and Gonzaga’s Paul O’Hara (200-yard individual medley, 100-yard breaststroke) were the meet’s only multiple individual race winners Saturday.
Conger set meet records in both his individual events and was part of Good Counsel’s record-setting 200-yard medley relay. Ledecky snapped former O’Connell swimmer and Olympian Kate Ziegler’s seven-year league record in the freestyle and a 16-year WMPSSDL record in the butterfly. She also helped the Gators set a meet record in the 200-yard freestyle relay. O’Hara set a meet record in the 200 individual medley.
McTaggart’s second wind helped Holton Saturday’s historical meet with a championship record in the 400-yard freestyle relay. The fashion in which the Pathers won, Mongelli said, is something that was greatly appreciated by everyone on deck Saturday and something that will not be forgotten any time soon.
“To win by 200 points is one thing. But to win by .5 points, that’s even sweeter,” Mongelli said.