By Nelson Coffin
Typically, when McDonogh and Notre Dame Prep square off in a dual meet, there is not much separation between the A Conference powerhouses.
On Tuesday in Towson, this year’s showdown proved to follow that same path as the lead changed hands four times before the Eagles put their foot on the accelerator over the final four events to blow by the Blazers, 95-75.
NDP took its final lead, 56-54, after Ellen Brooks captured the 500 freestyle in 5:12.50 and Blazer teammates Kate Mullaney (5:22.13) and Julia Merriman (5:25.7) touched the wall behind the sophomore star.
“It was back and forth (early in the meet),” said McDonogh senior Anna Robinson, a seasonal swimmer whose versatility allowed Eagles coach Scott Ward to use her in the 100-yard butterfly, 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard free relay. “But once we saw that we were down, we turned it on to the next level. We really came together.”
McDonogh jumped back ahead, 64-60, after Eva Byrne, Alayna Nielson, Erin Vance and Danielle Ghine took the 200 free relay in 1:41.65 over NDP’s Shea Boecker, Annabelle Lombardo, Greta Peacock and Liz Ramoy (1:43.66). Kaitlyn O’Byrne, Zoe Golden, Marietta Gately and Hannah Zhang (1:45.42) were third to grab more points for the Eagles.
The 100 backstroke was just what McDonogh needed to put some significant distance between itself and the Blazers, garnering what Nielson called a “podium sweep” with Meghan Lee (58.66), Byrne (1:02.30) and Nielson (1:03.15) grabbing 13 points while upping the Eagle cushion to 77-63.
And that meant that NDP would have needed a miracle at that point to climb over the two-time defending conference champs.
Instead, the Blazers were outscored, 10-6, in the 100 breaststroke to fall even further behind after Gately took the event in 1:07.83 over Lombardo (1:08.37) and Vance (1:09.03).
A win by Danielle McNerney, Byrne, Lindsey Bloom and Lee in the 400 free relay cemented McDonogh’s better-than-expected 20-point win, doubling the margin in the 2017 dual meet between the rivals won by the Eagles.
Ward said that he didn’t score the meet beforehand, but figured the spread might be closer to 10 points.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I knew we were pretty strong in the back, but I wasn’t too sure about the sprints. But we have some good freshmen freestylers now.”
One of those freshmen, Ghine, started things off well for McDonogh in the 200 medley relay, joining teammates Gately, Lee and Vance to post a winning 1:48.99 over NDP’s Ellen Brooks, Lombardo, Grace Brooks and Kate Helminiak.
The Blazers bounced right back, going 1-2 in the 200 free behind Mullaney (1:58.39) and Peacock (1:58.88) over Byrne (1:59.97) to take a 16-14 advantage.
They held the lead when the teams split 16 points in the 200 individual medley, with Vance (2:10.71) topping Lombardo (2:14.89) and Ramoy (2:16.87).
McDonogh surged ahead, 33-29, with Nielson (24.83) and Ghine (24.91,) edging Helminiak (25.92) in the 50 free before Lee (57.43) and Gately (1:00.96) sandwiched Ellen Brooks (59.49) in the 100 fly while building a 42-36 margin for the Eagles.
Nielson’s effort was a welcome one, considering that it was her first meet since suffering a concussion a couple of weeks ago.
The senior said that while she wasn’t in peak condition, it didn’t really matter.
“I was just going to swim my heart out for the team,” she said. “It was just about getting points for the team.”
The lead widened when Ghine (53.27) took the 100 free over Peacock (56.31) and McNerney (56.91), although NDP’s 500 free gave coach Terri Byrd some hope that her team might remain unbeaten this winter.
She said that the she was happy that the Blazers turned in a slew of personal-best times.
“We had the distance (events) but they had the sprints,” Byrd said.
NDP seniors Boecker and Emma Daugherty remained upbeat after the setback.
“At no time during the meet was I discouraged,” said Boecker, a captain. “Everybody on the team put in a maximum effort.”
Daugherty said “It’s better to lose during the season, and then come back and win the championship (meet on Feb. 4 at McDonogh).”