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ROCKY MOUNT — The Hunt High boys swim team, undefeated throughout the regular season, not only expected to three-peat as the 3-A Big East Conference champion by virtue of winning the championship meet, but it wanted perfection in the form of first place in all 11 events.
The Warriors of head coach Christel Dermer convincingly seized the championshp by outdistancing runner-up Rocky Mount, 260 to 176, and kept alive hopes of claiming the feat of winning every event for the second straight year — until the next-to-last event, the 100-yard breaststroke.
That’s when Franklinton sophomore Declan Gleason, the top seed, outswam Hunt’s Dante Gaetano, forcing Gaetano to settle for a runner-up finish.
“I am our only underdog,” Gaetano pointed out well before the event was scheduled. “But the guys tell me I have a good chance. I would hate to be the only one to lose.”
Gleason posted a time of one minute, 8.62 seconds, besting Gaetano by nearly four seconds.
“I definitely could have done a lot better,” Gaetano said. “I went out a little too slow. It was poor race planning on my part; the strategy was just off. But he beat me fair and square. He had a faster time; there was nothing I could do about it. But it’s not anything to be mad about.
Commented Gleason: “I hate to, like, not let them reach their goal. But if I am able to win, I should win. I really didn’t feel that good, but I ended up dropping my time.”
However, Gleason would have likely felt worse if he had been aware his victory in the 200 individual medley was subject to disqualification. Gleason insisted he had not been informed.
Fike edged Northern Nash, 112-111 for third place, followed by Franklinton (93 points) and Southern Nash (92).
Rocky Mount, the dominant team during the regular season, seized the girls championship with 251 points. Fike claimed second (174), edging Hunt (160.5). Southern Nash wound up fourth (112), trailed by Northern Nash (90.5) and Franklinton (63).
Hunt’s boys ruled behind a pair of top finishes each from senior Shane Matrejek, junior Ethan Maddrey and sophomore Sanjeev Francis. Maddrey was proclaimed the boys co-swimmer of the year.
Matrejek won the 500 freestyle (6:20.07) and 200 freestyle (2:12.24). He anchored the victorious 400 freestyle relay. Matrejek burst past Rocky Mount’s J.T. Tedford in the 200, grabbing the lead with some 50 yards remaining.
“I started out at my normal pace,” the Hunt senior reviewed. “Then, I turned on my legs and started kicking a lot. I started getting up to him. I got my pace pretty well and finished strong.”
Maddrey stayed unbeaten in individual events, seizing the 100-yard butterfly (57.56) and the 50 freestyle (23.45).
“I feel like I was swimming easy but fast at the same time,” Maddrey reviewed. “Anybody can swim freestyle but not everybody else can do the other strokes.”
Maddrey emphasized the Warriors wanted a clean sweep of the first places but acknowledged: “I don’t think we will.”
He also reminded Hunt could not declare itself the Big East champion unless it won the championship meet.
“You really have to bring it at these meets,” he added.
Maddrey again bested Fike junior Ryo Nakaya in the freestyle.
“I never get first place,” Nakaya lamented. “But this is my first year in the 50 — I’ll have another year. I’ll get first in the next meet; it will be a good challenge.
Francis ruled the 100-backstroke in 1:00.94 and the 100 freestyle in 52.78 seconds.
“I felt a little pressure,” Francis admitted, “because I didn’t want to let the team down and lose the first event. I was happy about my time; I haven’t been that fast in a very long time.
Francis commented that the backstroke is not his favorite stroke, but said: “My boys gave me motivation.”
Hunt’s Ben Tong was declared the 200 individual medley victor with Gleason’s disqualification.
Sweeping the relays for the Warriors were Maddrey, Nick Tew, Zac Taylor and Francis in the 200 freestyle (1:38.66); Maddrey, Taylor, Tew and Matrejek in the 400 freestyle (3:49.23); and Francis, Gaetano, Taylor and Tew in the 200 medley (1:51.84).
Arguably, Hunt’s highlight was avenging last week’s loss to Rocky Mount in the 200 freestyle relay.
Rocky Mount’s girls got first places from Katherine Ana Weeks in the 200 and 500 freestyles, Clara Lord in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke; Jenna Lavely in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Darcy Tyndall in the 100 butterfly.
The Lady Gryphons’ Katie Moss, hailed the female swimmer of the year, was a member of two first-place relays and notched a runner-up individual finish.
Fike grabbed second place despite not registering a first place.
Taking second were the 200 medley relay, Kaiya Patton in the 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle relay.
Despite a sensational performance from senior Emily Day, Hunt did not accomplish its mission of finishing ahead of archrival Fike.
Day anchored the triumphant 400 freestyle relay that included Rebekah Pierce, Brinley Warren and Kaley Gesell in 4:32.23; bested Moss in the 100 freestyle with a time of 1:01.18; and placed second in the 50 freestyle.
“I felt good about it,” Day repsonded to her conquest of Moss in the 100 backstroke. “My plan was to sprint the whole thing and don’t breathe on the flip turn. I also felt good about the 50. I slipped on the flip turn but caught back up — which is good.”
Day posted her best time of the season in the 50 but the comeback final leg of the 400 relay prompted jubilation.
“It was a good end,” Day gleefully said. “I finished it off really well. I saw that we were in third and knew I had to catch up. I got by her (Southern Nash’s Marley Winstead) on the 75(-yard) flip turn. To me, that was the most exciting.”
Hunt’s other winner was Brinley Warren in the 500 freestyle with a time of 7:09.
Southern Nash was led by senior Madalyn Bardowell with runner-up efforts in the 500 and 200 freestyles. She swam a strong opening leg for the Ladybirds’ 400 freestyle relay that finished second.
“I could have done better,” she contended, “but I get in my head too much.”
The 500 showing left Bardowell visibly upset.
“I put myself down way too much,” she lamented. “I have never done that — except today. I know I could have won the 200.
“But the team did really good — a lot better than last year.”