BOSTON – When the legendary Marilyn Fitzgerald announced her retirement from her coaching position after last season, outsiders were all asking the same question regarding Andover’s girls swimming program, whether its decades of dominance would continue.
Those within the walls of 80 Shawsheen Road apparently weren’t on the same wavelength, however. Instead of falling back to the pack, the Warriors’ dynastic run simply carried into Saturday, as Andover clinched its 11th consecutive North sectional title, and its 18th since 1999 with a stunning team score of 463 points at Boston University.
“We had some big shoes to fill,” Andover co-coach Patty Barrett said. “And I can’t imagine this would ever get old, truly. Every year, it’s a different group of athletes, and they get so pumped up to swim. And they had some amazing swims today. So we’re as excited as they are.”
It was an incredible performance from start to finish for the Warriors, as they placed first in five events overall. Senior Emily Clements led the charge for Andover, taking the 200 IM with a time of 2:04.38, and the 500 freestyle (5:03.18). With some assistance from her fellow teammates, she would also help to power the Warriors to first place finishes in the 200 freestyle relay at 1:38.84, and the 400 freestyle relay (3:36.17).
“I think as a team, we definitely had the same expectations,” Clements said. “We definitely all wanted to have an undefeated season. So I think in terms of that, the expectations were not at all different in terms of what we expected of ourselves.”
The key moment of the meet would take place during Clement’s victory in the 200 IM. After the senior touched the finish line first, she would be followed directly behind by teammates Emily Ma at 2:08.56, and Polina Malinovskaya (2:11.91), resulting in a 53-point swing in the standings. From that moment on, it was Andover’s championship to lose.
As determined as Barrett and fellow co-coach Rebecca Pierce were to usher in a new era at Andover when the season began, so were team leaders like Clements and Ma. To this point, they have used the lessons they’ve learned from past tutelage to have continued success.
“I was upset (when Fitzgerald left),” Ma said. “But I used it as motivation for myself to take on a leadership role, because she was a huge part of the team…I wanted to have as big of an impact on the team as she did. We just wanted to make up and fill out her space.”
Freshman up-and-comer Michaela Chokureva also played a major role in both relays for Andover, and took home first place honors in the 50 freestyle, clocking in at 23.49.
Central Catholic finished as the runner-up with a total score of 254 points. Senior Kerrigan Hemp placed second the 100 backstroke (56.32) and in the 100 butterfly (56.85) to provide a boost for the Raiders.
Other individual swimmers making splashes at sectionals included Reading’s Molly Hamlin, who placed first in the 200 freestyle at 1:51.61, as well as the 100 freestyle (50.49). North Andover sophomore Malia Amuan also impressed, capturing first place finishes in the 100 butterfly (56.24), and 100 backstroke (56.14).
Now, it’s onto next Sunday for Andover. All the doubters have been proven wrong to this point, and now only one step separates the Warriors from yet another state crown, which they will hope to capture at MIT.
“I definitely think we can (win again),” Clements said. “I think that the team is in a really good headspace right now, so I think going into next weekend we all feel really good about it.