Swimmers representing the Triangle in the N.C. High School Athletic Associate 3A state championships were thin on entries but heavy on state titles and medals Friday at the Triangle Aquatics Center.
Chapel Hill’s boys won their third consecutive state team crown and the Tigers’ girls took home the state runner-up plaque.
Corinth Holders senior Connor Blandford doubled with gold medals in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke. His 200 IM time of 1 minute, 50.72 seconds set a 3A state record; he won the 100 breast in 1:50.72.
Two other Triangle state titles were Chapel Hill senior Claire DeSelm claiming the 100 butterfly (56.32) for the third year in a row and the Chapel Hill boys winning the 200 freestyle relay (1:28.42).
The Kentucky-bound Blandford achieved his 2016 double after finishing the 2015 state meet unsatisfied with a 200 IM win and 100 backstroke runner-up.
“I felt better about my breaststroke this year and the switch paid off,” said Blandford, the Most Outstanding Swimmer of the boys meet. “I just worked hard and everything came through for me this year. I felt great about both swims.”
Chapel Hill’s boys won the team title despite winning only one event: the 200-freestyle relay foursome of C.J. Eron, Ang Li, Jordan Ren and Elie Rose.
Ren, a sophomore, led the strong depth showing, finishing third in the 200 IM (1:53.07) and third in the 100 breast (59.97). He also was on the runner-up 400 free relay (3:17.19).
“We had depth, so we’re not too surprised (to win without an individual champ),” Ren said. “I was excited when we won the 200 free relay. We knew those were important team points. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Top four: Two other Triangle boys taking home medals for the top four were Chapel Hill’s Thomas Bretzmann, third in the 500 free (4:43.06), and Cleveland’s Mitchell Langston, fourth in the 100 free (48.50).
More champs: Marvin Ridge’s Jeffrey Murray, 200 free (1:42.23); Concord’s Robbie Epler, 50 free (21.48); Cox Mill’s Patrick O’Brien, diving (296.25); Western Alamance’s Noah Henderson, 100 fly (49.70); (Waynesville) Tuscola’s Jack MacDonald, 100 free (46.72); (Hickory) St. Stephens’ Jacob Queen, 500 free (4:47.78); and Northern Guilford’s Jordan Reed, 100 back (51.63);
The state meet stops after the first three events to award medals and one event was 200 IM. DeSelm was a two-time defending state champion that placed fourth in 2:07.81, but she smiled as brightly as three girls standing with her on the podium. No one noticed it more than the winner, Marvin Ridge junior Caroline Hauder, whose 1:58.85 set a state record for all classifications.
“Claire has been an inspiration for me,” said Hauder, who later won the 100 breaststroke (1:02.15) and the girls Most Outstanding Swimmer award. “When she was the (Most Outstanding Swimmer) of the state meet my freshman year, I said, ‘That’s got to me someday.’ She always has a smile. She gave me a hug as soon as the race was over. She is the most genuine person I know.”
Some defending state champions would have pouted, but DeSelm was back on the starting blocks for the 100 butterfly in a matter of minutes from the award ceremony. She shook off the pressure and collected her third straight state title in 56.32.
“There really isn’t a best one,” DeSelm said of the wins, “but I think this year was special to know I had the support of all the Tigers. We all have our ups and downs in swimming. The only thing I can control is my effort and I know I gave it my all in that race (200 IM). I have no regrets.”
Top four: More top four medalists were Chapel Hill’s Paige Jones, tied for fourth, 50 free (24.90); Chapel Hill’s Marissa Tocci, third in the 100 free (54.26); Chapel Hill’s Una Knaven, fourth, 500 free (5:08.08); and Corinth Holders’ Rachel Strickland, third, 100 back (56.61).
More champs: Another double winner was Hickory’s Anna Durak in the 200 free (1:50.14) and 100 free (51.76). Other champs were Weddington’s Katie Corbi, 50 free (24.27); Marvin Ridge’s Nikki Canale, diving (499.70); Hickory’s Emmaline Peterson, 500 free (4:52.80); and (Concord) Cox Mill’s Madison Holland, 100 back (56.61).