The Haddonfield Memorial High School boys and girls swim teams each found themselves in a similar situation Wednesday night at the NJSIAA South Jersey Championships. Each team trailed by two points heading into the final event of the competition—the 400 freestyle relay.
With each stroke, the large fan base at Gloucester County Institute of Technology got louder and louder until it final reached a fever pitch as the final swimmers approached the wall.
In each instance, there was mass celebration for the winners and great disappointment for the runners-up.
Unfortunately for the Bulldawgs, they were on the losing end of both thrilling meets.
The Moorestown boys team broke a 70-70 tie by winning the breast stroke and followed by winning the 400 free to grab a 87-83 win over the Bulldawgs. The Mainland girls followed by defeating Haddonfield by the same 83-77 result.
The latter result left many of the Haddonfield girls in tears. The Bulldawgs had given maximum effort, setting personal best times event after event. Yet, they came short of their ultimate goal of reaching their ninth state championship meet in the last 12 years.
Once given a moment to reflect, however, the girls quickly realized they had nothing to hang their heads about.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so proud,” said senior Emily Rollo, who won the 100 free and 200 medley. “Despite the loss, we had so many best times. Every girl literally left it in the pool today. It would have been nice to go on but I couldn’t be any more proud. We have come such a long way from the beginning of the year. I don’t think anyone even thought we would go this far.”
Haddonfield led 65-59 with three events to go after the team of Rollo, Jill Stone, Abby Czerniecki and Sophie Fontaine won the 200 free relay, but Mainland stormed back to win the next two events to set up the 400 relay showdown. The Bulldawgs fell behind by three body lengths after the first 100, but closed within half a length in the final 100. Rollo did her best to overtake the mainland swimmer, but came up just short.
“It was difficult,” Rollo said. “All my friends in the student body were up there (in the stands), my family was up there and it was exciting. My adrenalin was going but it was difficult. I have been in this situation four times in my life and we made states my freshman and junior year, so I know how to handle that. We just came up a little short.”
The feeling was similar for the Haddonfield boys, who also trailed 79-77 going into the 400 relay.
Once again the Bulldawgs were little more than a few fingertips away from winning a South Jersey title when all was said and done. The No. 2 Bulldawgs—who had won the South Jersey title the past three years—were viewed as significant underdogs to No. 1 Mainland, but gave it everything they had in defeat.
“When you prepare for a meet against a team as strong as Moorestown, you know it is going to be a really tough meet," Haddonfield coach Bob Querubin said. “What we didn’t realize is just how much these Haddonfield boys had it in them to come out and do best time in events. We have guys getting best times in events they don’t even normally swim in, and doing it by five or six seconds. It was an awesome, awesome experience. There is no better learning environment than to come in here and compete against a team like that.”
Querbubin said he was proud of the way his team peaked at the end of the season, even as some of the team’s top swimmers had to battle off illness.
“In the middle of the season a lot of these guys got hit with that flu that was going around and it just seems like it took these guys a little extra time to get there," he said. “I applaud these boys efforts for coming out the end of the year and performing the way they did.”