By Nelson Coffin
There must be something in the air along the Falls Road corridor, considering the recent monster achievements by St. Paul's School for Girls senior swimming star Elizabeth Fry and Maryvale Preparatory School junior basketball standout Claire Neff.
Both athletes from the neighboring schools are at the top of their respective sports after reaching iconic careeer goals.
Fry, who plans to swim for Notre Dame next season, led the Gators to their first B Conference championship since 2010 with a 418-410 win over runner-up Severn.
She also broke a longstanding meet record in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.43), which was previously held by Jordan Surhoff, the daughter of SPSG coach Polly Surhoff.
And that's saying a lot, what with Jordan Surhoff eventually becoming a two-time honorable mention All-American and Big 12 champion at Texas.
"I grew up hearing about Jordan Surhoff and her accomplishments as she progressed through her swimming career," Fry said. "She went on to become a high-level collegiate athlete for whom I have tremendous respect. Breaking her record was exciting, and I am extremely honored to keep the record in the St. Paul’s family."
Moreover, Fry's time in the event was more than three seconds faster than the winning time in the A Conference.
Polly Surhoff said that as she was timing Fry's splits, she thought her daughter's record was in jeopardy.
“I wanted her to break it,” Polly Surhoff said. “She’s the only year-round swimmer on the team, yet she’s such a team player. She always wants to help the other girls.”
Fry said that the team was important to her.
"This team has genuine passion for the sport and getting to watch my teammates grow, not only as athletes, but also as individuals, has been a true pleasure," Fry said. "I am proud of my team’s commitment and am so glad I got to help contribute to a victory for SPSG my final season as a Gator. I am grateful for the support this program has provided me with and cannot wait to see the amazing things they will accomplish in the coming years."
In addition, Fry joined Abby Mudd, Anabel Hennessy and Graciela Breschi to capture the 200 medley relay in 1:58.06 and took the 200 individual medley in 2:03.53.
“We never won so many medals,” Surhoff said. “We were on the podium a lot.”
Fry said that she was "extremely honored to have gotten the opportunity to represent SPSG in my four years of high school swimming."
Neff eclipsed 1,000 career points in a 65-42 win over Mercy to join teammate Molly McAleer, who reached that plateau last season, on the current Maryvale roster.
The three-year starter's 11-point effort in the first half was enough to reach the coveted mark in a game that upped the Lions' record to 12-8 overall and 6-5 in B Conference play this winter.
She is averaging 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and owns double-doubles in 13 games this season.
Neff is shooting 79 percent from the free throw line, 44 percent from the field and averages more than two steals and two assists per outing.
Her best game statistically was against Gerstell Academy when she scored 27 points, pulled down 19 rebounds and added four assists and three steals in the Lions' 54-24 triumph.
Against Loch Raven, Neff poured in 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, assisted on two baskets and totaled seven steals in a 53-28 win.
While reaching the 1,000-point mark is important, Neff said that a deep playoff run would be even more rewarding
"I could never have reached this milestone without my teammates, family, and friends," she said. "It was exciting, but it would be even more exciting to have our team really advance in the playoffs. We work hard and I would love to see us all play like I know we can. I think we could really go far. Three E’s are all it takes…energy, effort, and enthusiasm."
Maryvale coach Alex Miller, as might be expected, is one of Neff's biggest boosters.
"I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Claire for the past three years at Maryvale, and her energy and enthusiasm from day one has been off the charts," he said. "She is the loudest and most supportive player in the gym, and uses her athleticism to the best of her ability on the basketball court. It is quite an accomplishment to score 1,000 points in your junior season and, we are extremely proud of her. Claire is more than just a scorer for us, and impacts the game on both ends of the floor by leading the team in assists, rebounds, and steals."