University of Maryland, College Park – In the most recent chapter of a rivalry that has intensified over the last three years, the C. Milton Wright girls knocked off reigning champion Poolesville Saturday to capture the 1A/2A/3A state swimming championship.
Heading into the big showdown, Debbie King, the C. Milton Wright head coach who helmed the Mustangs to an undefeated regular season as well as Harford County and regional titles this year, had said the relay events at the season's ultimate competition would decide whether her girls team walked away with a Maryland crown, or finished behind rival Poolesville for a second straight year.
She could not have been more correct. The Mustangs girls began the meet with a victory in the 200 medley relay, took first in the 200 freestyle, and then, in a scene out of a movie script, tied with Poolesville for the top spot in the meet's final event, the 400 freestyle relay, en route to a second state championship trophy in three years.
In addition to the relay titles, CMW got a double win performance from Megan Cowan and a 1-2 finish from the O'Mara twins, Lauren and Julia, in the 100 breaststroke.
"At the finals, every event is going to be important, definitely, but I think the relays are going to be where we win or lose," King said before the meet, held at Maryland's Eppley Recreation Center, kicked off at 4 p.m. "We're strong in the relay events, and there's a lot of points to be won there, so if we can do well, win all three of them, the girls team is going to have a real shot. Poolesville is very talented though, so it's going to be close no matter what."
This year's meet marked the third time in three years the CMW and Poolesville girls teams finished either first or second. The Mustangs took first at the 2012 meet, then finished second behind Poolesville at last year's final. The CMW team finished Saturday with 327.5 points, while Poolesville took second with 297.5. Frederick rounded out the top three girls team with 167.5 points.
The finishing places for remaining Harford County girls teams competing at the 1A/2A/3A finals were: Patterson Mill, 10th; North Harford, 12th; Harford Tech, 14th; Aberdeen, 16th; and Fallston, 28th.
The CMW boys team posted the highest finish among local squads in the boys championship meet, earning fifth place.
The Joppatowne and Harford Tech boys finished in a dead heat for 11th place, while Fallston and Havre de Grace finished in a three-way tie for 15th place along with Rockville. Patterson Mill finished 19th, Edgewood took 24th and North Harford was 27th.
Big opening win
The CMW girls set the tone at the meet's opening race, the 200 medley relay, with Erika Abshire, Julia O'Mara, Anna Capozzoli and Gabby Jordan finishing in first, nearly three full seconds ahead of second-place Poolesville.
"Starting off with the relay win was big," CMW co-head coach Cathy Bendis said after the meet had concluded. "We know Poolesville has a lot of fast swimmers, and that it was going to be a battle, so getting that win in the medley relay helped us out."
CMW's next victory came from Cowan, who cruised to the first of her two titles in 200 freestyle with a time of 1:56.52, more than two full seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
Cowan struck again in the 500 freestyle, posting a winning time of 5:16.05.
As King had predicted, the meet was decided during the relays, specifically the girls 200 freestyle race, in which the Mustangs were holding a slight two-point lead over Poolesville.
Julia O'Mara, Lauren Rutherford, Lauren O'Mara and Cowan managed to overcome a time deficit during the third leg to finish in first with a time of 1:40.75, a new Harford County record.
"For the 200 freestyle relay we made a switch, and we were hoping it would work out," Bendis said. "Megan Cowan was put in to swim the third leg, which she hadn't done before. We just wanted to get our time down a few seconds, and everything worked. I think the move might have thrown Poolesville off a little bit."
The O'Maras made yet another trip to the podium with Lauren taking first and Julia taking second in the 100 breastroke.
The Mustang girls, ahead 290.5 to 260.5 heading into the last race of the evening, the 400 freestyle relay, did not need to finish the meet with a win to claim an overall victory, but they went out swinging anyway, and the result was the tie with Poolesville. CMW's Erika Slotnick joined Rutherford, Cowan and Lauren O'Mara in capturing the Mustangs' third relay title.
"I still can't believe what happened with that last relay," Bendis said. "That was just an amazing way to finish the meet. Two strong teams finishing in tie. That might have been the best race of the whole meet."
Earlier in the meet, Lauren O'Mara helped the Mustangs' cause by taking second place in the girls 200 medley, Jordan finished third in the girls 50 freestyle and Rutherford took third in the girls 100 freestyle.
North Harford's Hilary Young swam to a second-place finish in the girls 100 backstroke.
Joppatowne's Dale Marx turned in the best performance of any local boys competitor, posting a second-place finish in the 100 freestyle and a third-place finish in the 50 freestyle.
Harford Tech's Justin Carestia notched a third-place showing in the boys 100 backstroke.
"We can put our swimmers in a position to win races, and that's it," Bendis said. "What it comes down to is how much they want it. Tonight, the girls team showed they wanted it more. I think they were really motivated with last year's [second-place] finish. They went hard every single race tonight and it paid off. We're really happy."