Winning a championship swim and dive meet of any kind is an accomplishment in itself. But being crowned Independent School League champion carries a lot more weight these days than it did 11 years ago, longtime Holton-Arms School swimming and diving coach Graham Westerberg said.
The host Panthers reclaimed the ISL title from defending champion and rival Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart with Friday’s ninth league championship in 11 years. Holton finished with 267 points, ahead of the Gators in second place with 180 points. Sidwell Friends School (158 points), Madeira (153) and Holy Child (116) placed third through fifth, respectively.
“Our league has come so far, it’s so much stronger than it has been in the 11 years that I’ve been coaching, it’s a real privilege to be on top of the league,” Westerberg said. “Our girls were motivated, this was a championship we lost last year and we were motivated to get it back. Our girls are always excited for the ISL meet. We love the excitement and the atmosphere.”
Two major factors led to Friday’s sizeable differential: The presence of Holton’s top scorer, junior Caroline McTaggart, who missed last year’s event to train at the Olympic Training Center, and the absence of one of Stone Ridge’s top scorers and breaststroker, Natalie Kronfli, who graduated.
Holton came in to Friday’s meet fresh off a convincing win over Stone Ridge in dual meet competition, which gave the Panthers even more confidence, McTaggart said. Though Holton was seeded to win, the Panthers still had to execute. And they did.
Stone Ridge’s best bet was to go after the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays — relays are worth twice as many points as individual events and the Gators are a freestyle heavy bunch — but Holton swept all three relay races, setting a meet record in the championship finale 400-yard freestyle relay.
Holton also won a meet-high three individual events. McTaggart won back-to-back races in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly and Isabelle Jubin took the 100-yard freestyle. McTaggart and Jubin joined forces with Emma Raynor and Alexis LeMone to win the 400-yard freestyle relay in meet record fashion with a time of 3 minutes and 36.59 seconds. LeMone, McTaggart, Halsey McKinney and Sydney Mathis won the 200-yard freestyle relay and Raynor, Jubin, Mathis and Sally Huizinga opened the meet with a win in the 200-yard medley relay.
Stone Ridge junior Katie Ledecky was the only other multiple individual race winner Friday besides McTaggart. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist cruised in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events and helped the Gators to runner-up finishes in both freestyle relays.
“You can only score a certain number of points in a meet and you can only control what your score is,” Stone Ridge coach Robert Walker said. “You kind of know beforehand, you know what everyone’s place is. Looking at the psych sheet ahead of time, Holton was going to win by a landslide, we were going to be second and Sidwell was going to be third and that’s how it played out exactly. It doesn’t always happen that way.”
Friday’s meet, however, was only the first of three consecutive championship weekends. Bigger fields of competition mean more challenges and while Friday’s result is a good indicator of how Holton and Stone Ridge will fare at next weekend’s Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving League championship and the following weekend’s Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving championships, their places are by no means set in stone.
“Hopefully as the next two weeks progress we can learn from things as weeks go on and as a team, our goals this year are mainly on the relays, so we’ll see if we can put anything together than can compete with the public schools at Metros,” Ledecky said.
Added Westerberg: “I think we’ve set ourselves up nicely. I always say hard work pays off, it’s just a matter of when. I know we can still perform better, which is exciting.”