Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Swim relays provide friendly competition

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No one who walked into the Montgomery Aquatic Center during Saturday morning’s Division I relay carnival would have guessed the meet meant nothing. The pool deck and bleachers were packed to capacity; constant cheering resonated in the facility as if it were an important championship meet like counties or Metros.

Relays are an annual tradition, bringing county swim teams back together after winter break for a little friendly competition before championship season begins. It also provides coaches a good opportunity to familiarize themselves with their team’s strengths and weaknesses, and their opponents’.

Though Saturday’s results — Whitman and Walter Johnson tied for first with 57 points and Wootton finished third with 51 points, followed by Churchill (48), Sherwood (45) and Richard Montgomery (26) — have no bearing on division or county rankings, teams’ pride and reputations were on the line.

‘‘It’s really just a fun meet for the kids,” Walter Johnson coach Jamie Grimes said. ‘‘But all these kids know each other and they all want to race well and do well against their friends.”

The Washington area has a large swimming talent pool, with many national-caliber athletes. So every time the top swimmers get together, like Saturday, they push each other to go faster: two county records went down in Saturday’s meet.

Wootton seniors Sean Stewart and Stephen Sakaris, junior Chris Emr and freshman Thomas Finn crushed the 200-yard backstroke relay record of 1 minute, 43.02 seconds set by Churchill in 1988, resetting the standard at 1:41.63. Walter Johnson seniors Ben Cimons, Elena Spak and Eric Friedland, juniors Aaron Budner and Amanda Powell, sophomore Andrew Tollefson and freshman Sidney Drill lowered the 400 mixed freestyle relay record set by Walter Johnson in 2005 from 3:13.87 to 3:13.10.

County coaches, who have their own friendly rivalries, were challenged, as well. Swimmers’ times are public knowledge and don’t change drastically from week to week. It’s up to coaches to find the combination — the top five finishers in each event get points in decreasing amounts — that will pick up enough points to win.

Saturday’s meet was trickier because all the events were relays. It’s about choosing the events you know you can win and going for them.

‘‘It’s intricate,” Wootton coach Howard Blume said. ‘‘You have to really think about it. You want to hide some weaknesses. You get a chance to do a mixed relay, but then you have to think, ‘Where do I want to put the kids? Do I want to go, boy, girl, boy, girl? Or girl, girl, boy, boy?’ Walter Johnson’s strategy was to go for a lot of the mixed relays. I was trying to go more for the boys events.”

Led by Friedland, Walter Johnson won the boys 200 breaststroke relay. Behind strong performances from multiple race winners Lauren Poore, Danielle Schulkin, Mark Meyer and Serge Gould, Whitman claimed first-place finishes in the 200 mixed medley, 200 girls backstroke, 200 mixed butterfly and the 200 mixed backstroke.

Wootton clinched three events. Sakaris, Stewart and Emr were each part of the winning 200 boys butterfly, 200 boys backstroke and 200 boys freestyle relays.

‘‘It’s a real neat meet,” Blume said. ‘‘It gets everyone together, builds good team camaraderie as we head into the final stretch of the season. It’s no question, it’s going to be a dog fight for our division. It’s going to be real competitive, real close.”