This was supposed to be the year that the Loyola swim team was vulnerable - the year its long stretch atop the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association could come to an end.
If an undefeated conference dual-meet season didn't disprove those theories, the Dons' performance yesterday at the MIAA Championships did.
Relying heavily on their younger swimmers, the Dons, thanks to four gold medals from sophomore Nick Taylor and four first first-place relay teams, racked up 656.50 points in cruising to their ninth straight title yesterday at the Loyola Aquatic Center.
Mount St. Joseph, highlighted by sophomore Eric Cullen's 100-yard breaststroke victory, was impressive in taking second place with 520 points.
Senior Tim Newton collected a gold in the 200 intermediate medley (1 minute, 57.88 seconds), and sophomore Drew Pallace won the 100 butterfly (53.81) and the 100 backstroke (55.73) to lead McDonogh to third place (462 points).
From the outset, it was the Dons' day. Rumors of the team's possible struggle proved to be greatly exaggerated.
"One year, we're not going to win this, so it's nice to see the challenge," said Loyola coach Keith Schertle, whose team also benefited from strong performances from Colin Soper, Nicholas Lombardi, Jamie Hopkins and Nick Conley. "They looked at how much we graduated, but we swam better today."
No one embodied the Dons' resilience more than Taylor, who won the 100 freestyle (48.42) and the 50 freestyle (21.66), and anchored the winning 400 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams.
In the 200 relay, the Dons swam a pool-record 1:40.55, a time that earned All-American consideration.
Taylor, whose time in the 50 free was also a pool record, struggled this season, first with a shoulder injury and then with mononucleosis.
"This season, I hadn't swam that well," Taylor said. "I was waiting for a breakout performance, and it showed up today."
Another standout was Friends freshman Nico Zebley, who took home gold medals in the 200 freestyle (1:45.89) and the 500 freestyle (4:35.61), setting an MIAA record and registering an All-America time in the latter.
Friends has no swim team, but Zebley, who also swims for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, competed as an individual.
Said Zebley: "I was expecting to do well, but that was a little above what I was expected."