CARY — Chapel Hill won a down-to-the wire finish to claim the girls Big Eight Conference swimming championship Friday night at the Triangle Aquatic Center.
Chapel Hill’s second relay team in the 400 freestyle grabbed third place after the Tigers “A” team had won the race, clinching a scant 607-597 win over the Crusaders. Chapel Hill’s boys beat out Gibbons more comfortably, 681-619.
Chapel Hill and Cardinal Gibbons swimmers combined to win every event in the meet, and they took the top two places in 17 of 22 races.
“It’s really good to perform well here leading into the next two meets,” said Chapel Hill coach Steve Riegler. “It’s going to help our confidence knowing that we can compete with Gibbons on both sides.”
The girls meet wasn’t decided until the final race of the evening, the 400-yard freestyle relay. Entering the race, the Tigers held a 535-533 lead over the Crusaders.
The Tigers “A” team of Claire DeSelm, Annabelle Durham, Jaylyn Forrest and Uma Knaven won the race, but Cardinal Gibbons took second and third place in the first heat, giving the Crusaders 66 points for the race, and Chapel Hill 40, though the Tigers “B” relay still had to swim in the race’s second heat.
Sophie Pudik, Anna MacKinnon, Julia Sisk and Natalie Thomas turned in a time of 3:52.02, good for third place overall and enough to hand the Tigers 72 points in the race and clinch the Big Eight title.
“We were not in the lead after the first heat. We were relying on our ‘B’ relay to get third place, and they did,” Durham said. “That’s what this whole season has been like. That depth is sometimes undervalued, but we’ve really shown that value with our depth this year.”
Overall, the Tigers won eight off 11 events Friday. Durham won all four races she entered, the 200 medley relay, the 400 free relay, the 100 free (54.38) and the 100 backstroke (59.51).
Kaitlin Jones was a three-time winner, taking the 50 free (25.14), the 100 breaststroke (1:07.35) and the 200 medley relay. DeSelm also won three events for the Tigers: the 200 individual medley (2:08.94), the 100 butterfly (57.23) and the 400 free relay.
Runner-up Cardinal Gibbons claimed three events. Emily Dykstra won the 200 free (1:55.92), the 500 free (5:05.92) and she helped win the 200 free relay along with Sammy Stone, Haley Allen and Sophia Lindem.
On the boys’ side, the win was a long time coming for the Tigers. No one from Chapel Hill could recall the last time the Tigers beat Cardinal Gibbons.
“There were some rough patches, but we really pulled through,” said O’Donnell. “We haven’t been able to beat Gibbons for a long time. We have a really good team going into regionals and states, and I think we can put up a good performance and hopefully win both.”
Chapel Hill won seven of 11 events on Friday, usurping Gibbons for the conference crown and letting it be known they hope to do the same at the upcoming regional and state championship meets.
Josh Taekman won two events, including the 200 free (1:58.38), and the 200 free relay. Patrick O’Donnell won the 100 breaststroke (1:04.06) and the 100 butterfly (54.60), and Jake Pudick won the 100 free (49.08) and the 200 free relay. C.J. Enron was also a winner for the Tigers, winning the 50 free (22.13).
Noah Cairns won three events for the Crusaders: the 200 IM (1:59.64), the 500 free (4:43.52) and the 200 medley relay.