Mo­ti­vated Rock­ets good to the fin­ish


Richard Mont­gomery Coach Aryn Wheeler watched the 400yard freestyle re­lay with a mix­ture of ner­vous­ness and con­fi­dence dur­ing Saturday’s 4A/3A Mary­land state swim­ming cham­pi­onships.

It was the last boys’ event, and Wheeler knew her squad needed a top-three fin­ish to clinch its third state ti­tle in four sea­sons.

Her pool­side cheers at Mary­land’s Ep­p­ley Recreation Cen­ter, com­bined with the team’s sea­son­long prepa­ra­tion, paid off as the group was the third to touch the wall. Churchill won the event and would have earned a share of the team ti­tle had the Rock­ets fin­ished fourth or lower.

In­stead, the Rock­ets pro­duced 289 points to win their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive tro­phy, while the Bull­dogs (287) took sec­ond and Bethes­daChevy Chase (196) third.

“All you can do as a coach is try to pump them up and get them mo­ti­vated,” Wheeler said, “and then they have to take it from there.”

The Rock­ets tried to ig­nore the pres­sure of re­peat­ing, Wheeler said, but they knew Churchill, which beat them to fin­ish sec­ond at Met­ros on Feb. 11, would be a for­mi­da­ble foe. Mul­ti­ple vic­to­ries in the Col­lege Park pool helped the Rock­ets cap their un­de­feated dual sea­son with a fi­nal win.

The Rock­ets started by win­ning the 200 med­ley re­lay. A few races later, se­nior Kenny Afo­labi-Brown fin­ished first in the 50 free in 21.45 sec­onds. The team also claimed the 200 free re­lay.

Ju­nior Jack Rose had per­haps the most im­pres­sive in­di­vid­ual slate, win­ning the 100 back in 51.41 and tak­ing third in the 500 free. Rose pulled ahead on the fi­nal lap to out-touch Clarks­burg se­nior Michael Wong by 0.02 sec­onds.

“I was really scared be­cause I knew it was go­ing to be close,” Rose said.

On the girls’ side, Walter John­son en­sured there would be no re­peat. The Wild­cats fin­ished with 292 points to pre­vail over 2016 cham­pion Sher­wood (246) and Blair (228).

Af­ter the Wild­cats claimed their first Met­ros ti­tle since at least 1997 ear­lier this month, Coach Jamie Grimes let the girls shave a paw print and “CHAMPS” into his hair and give him a Mo­hawk.

Se­nior cap­tain Ce­line Nu­gent, who was sec­ond in the 100 free and the 200 in­di­vid­ual med­ley, ap­pre­ci­ated Grimes’s en­cour­age­ment.

“It’s an amaz­ing feel­ing,” Nu­gent said. “I never thought this mo­ment would come, but when our coach told us we had a chance, we really worked up as a team to try to get there.”

Girls’ dou­ble win­ners in­cluded Blair se­nior Madi­son Waechter, who won the 200 and 500 free. Quince Or­chard fresh­man Cather­ine Belyakov and Churchill se­nior Emily Wang set state records in the 200 IM (2:03.81) and 100 fly (55.18), re­spec­tively.

Other boys’ win­ners in­cluded Woot­ton se­nior Alex Li (200 and 500 free) and Quince Or­chard ju­nior Eli Fouts (100 fly and 100 breast). Walter John­son se­nior Timmy El­lett set a state record in the 200 IM (1:52.61), while Gaithers­burg se­nior Bran­don Cu won the 100 free for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son. Churchill’s Mory Gould (474.55) won the boys’ div­ing cham­pi­onship, and Oak­dale’s Melissa No­vak (420.05) won the girls’ ti­tle.

Poolesville sweeps yet again

The Poolesville boys’ team clinched a sixth con­sec­u­tive state ti­tle in the 3A/2A/1A ses­sion, to­tal­ing 347.5 points to beat Mid­dle­town (220). Poolesville se­nior Justin Kim paced the boys’ win with a ti­tle in the 200 free (1:43.42) and third-place fin­ish in the 100 back.

The Fal­cons’ girls’ squad mir­rored that suc­cess, post­ing 363 points to earn its third straight cham­pi­onship.

Fresh­man Moshelle Bor­ji­gin won the girls’ 100 back in 59.24 and placed sec­ond in the 200 free.

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