Southern Girls Swimmers Score First-Ever State Tourney WinWild Finish Delivers Victory in Tiebreaker
Walking behind the swim meet officials, Southern Regional girls swimming head coach Bill Entrikin emerged from an office inside the St. Francis Aquatic Center and entered the pool area. Smiling, he gave a thumbs-up to his squad tensely waiting alongside the pool. Then came an eruption of happy emotion.
The Rams had just scored the school program’s first state tournament victory, and they accomplished the feat in a most bizarre way – via the meet “power point” criteria devised as a tiebreaker by the NJSIAA.
“I told the girls yesterday that this meet could end in a tie,” said Entrikin, following the Rams’ 85-85, power-points win over Vineland in the South Jersey Public A tourney on Feb. 7. “When I told them how the tiebreaker worked, they didn’t believe it. But this is how it works, and tonight we scored the highest amount of power points in a meet ever – just another first for us.”
As explained by the officials following the 85-85 deadlock, the teams are awarded a specified number of points per event, depending on where their swimmers placed and according to their times. All individual swimmers are calculated into the points system, but only the teams’ top crew in each of the three relay events.
When the calculations were done, the Rams amassed 2,771 power points and the Fighting Clan ended up some 300 points lower, giving fifth-seeded Southern the victory and sending it into the quarterfinals to square off against fourth-seeded Eastern Regional.
“I was very nervous,” said Laura Patterson, who, along with a half-dozen other seniors, had raced for the last time in their home pool. “But it was more of an excited nervous, because the adrenaline was really going by the end of the meet. We’ve been working so hard for this and we knew, going into that last event, that we had to get at least second and third in order to tie. It was exciting to watch that last race.”
After the 200-yard medley squad of Jacquelyn Kilcommons, Gabrielle Cabaron, Olivia Davis and Patterson swiped second and the team of Caitlin Behr, Mia Amirr, Jillian Middleton and Grace Sprague took third to open the contest, the Rams immediately found themselves behind the Fighting Clan.
Abigael Coughlin then scored second-place points with a time of 2:09.76 in the 200-yard freestyle, while Davis (2:37.18) and Kady Patterson (2:40.29) took second and third, respectively, in the 200-yard individual medley. But the points gap was getting larger as Vineland continued to garner first-place points.
Following the 50-yard freestyle, in which the Clan took the top-two positions, the Rams were down by 10 points, 36-26. And even though Cabaron and Kilcommons finished second and third in the 100-yard butterfly, followed by second- and third-place finishes by Patterson and Abigail Malandro in the 100-yard freestyle, the lead hadn’t changed.
After the 500-yard freestyle, during which only Abbey Mower managed a top-three spot by taking second in 5:57.98, Vineland’s lead was up to 12 points. Then the Clan won the 200-yard freestyle relay and the lead grew to 14 points, 69-55.
With three events to go, the Rams needed something big to happen.
“All season long, our middle pack has been great,” Coughlin said. “We have the depth and a middle pack a lot of teams don’t have. And they came through for us again! We knew we needed to sweep something at some point in order to have a shot at winning the meet. And our backstroke and breaststroke girls did the job.”
Kilcommons led the charge in winning the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:08.22, while Behr (1:11.74) followed in second. Kady Patterson pulled ahead of Vineland’s best swimmer in the event during the final 15 yards to take third in 1:14.11, setting off a roar from the Southern swimmers and their fans.
Yet, the Rams weren’t finished. That sweep only closed the gap to four points, 72-68.
But then Cabaron – Southern’s career-points leader and newly crowned Shore Conference champion – threw down the hammer on the final lap of the 100-yard breaststroke. She won in 1:09.94 – and Amirr (1:19.27) and Brianna Krebs (1:22.06) pulled out third- and fourth-place finishes to push Southern ahead, 79-77.
There was one event left.
A Southern victory in the 200-yard freestyle relay could give the Rams an outright victory. But if the Rams took second and third, it would force a tiebreaker. If Vineland took two of the top-three spots, the Clan would go home victorious.
So Davis, Hannah Skimmons, Malandro and Coughlin clocked a 4:03.14 but were nearly four seconds behind Vineland’s winning relay. Fortunately, the team of Sprague, Kilcommons, Margaret Keenan and Behr took third in 4:15.54 to gain the tie.
“If any meet was going to be my last one in this pool, I was glad it was this one,” Coughlin said. “Every single girl on this team gave it her all. Every swimmer put everything she had into every race.
“Everybody on this team has a role, and in this meet they never failed to make me proud to be their teammate and captain.”
Despite a joyous finish, Laura Patterson said it was bittersweet.
“It’s sad that the seniors aren’t going to have any more races in this pool,” she said. “But at the same time, we can’t really be sad. Because we just got the first state tournament win in our history!
“It’s just another great accomplishment for this team, and I’m proud of every girl here!”