Weekly Feature

2017-10-12 / Sports

Lady Chief swimmers complete perfect season

Iroquois’ girls swimming team recently put the finishing touches on an unblemished 8-0 dual-meet season with its 65-36 triumph over Starpoint on Friday.

“The girls probably got mad at our senior captain, but Lauren Willitt would remind the girls every day to stay on track, stay motivated and keep pushing each other to be better every day,” coach Mike O’Connor said. “It’s exactly what we needed to be the team we were this year. Lauren cares so much about our team and our tradition, and doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever coached, and the other girls know that and try their best for her. It’s impressive to have a young lady be such a determined athlete and leader.”

Even though Starpoint had previously lost to Amherst by two points, the Lady Chiefs entered Friday’s meet knowing that if they lost there would be a three-way tie for the division. Allison Lenda, Sarah Mertzlufft, Alex Wheeler and Shelby Slachetka kicked off the meet with a pool-record time of 1 minute, 56.10 seconds that won the event, and Willett came through in the next event with an important second place finish.

Iroquois showcased its depth in the next few events, with the Lady Chiefs taking the top two sports in the 200 IM (Wheeler and Melanie White), the 50 freestyle (Lenda and Slachetka), diving (Kennedy Haberl and Ava Cimini), and the 100 butterfly (Mertzlufft and Wheeler) to hold a 37-12 lead at that point.

“In all honesty, the meet was pretty much over at that point,” O’Connor said. “We could have cruised to the win but our girls were doing their strongest and wanted to keep getting best times and more points. Our team has been going about our business — which is a very impressive thing to watch — but they had been looking forward to this meet all year. They’ve put in the daily and weekly work, both during the school season and at the club level, because they know how important it is to swim year round in terms of staying in shape, learning and putting in the work so that when the time comes in a meet like this, they can just go out and perform.”

After the butterfly, Willitt and Slachetka took second and third, while Wheeler and her sister Sam swam the 500 free and placed first and third, respectively.

Before the meet it looked like the 200 free relay was going to be one of the deciding races of the meet, and even though it wasn’t Iroquois’ foursome still posted a time of 1:43.66 that was nearly four seconds faster than the Lady Spartans’ top relay. That win, which bumped Iroquois’ lead to 52-23, cliched the meet for the Lady Chiefs.

Lenda and White then took the top two spots in the 100 backstroke, while Metzlufft finished second in the 100 breaststroke after just getting touched out by the winner from Starpoint. The Lady Chiefs then closed out the meet with a second-place effort in the 400 free relay.

Iroquois finished the day with 21 lifetime-best efforts, with Canaple, Clemens, Maggie Lenda, Long, Nazarevych and Slachetka having two or more bests each.

It was the perfect culmination of a strong season-long effort for Iroquois that began with the team title at the Frewsburg Invitational back on Sept. 9. The dual meet season started at Cheektowaga on Sept. 12, with Iroquois posting a 131-38 victory behind 32 lifetime-best swims. Swimmers with more than two bests that day included were Ava Cimini, Megan Clemens, Genevieve Homac, Maggie Lenda, Ava Long, Sophia Nazarevych, Sophie Rupp, Neleah Walker, Nevada Walker and White.

Next up for Iroquois was Pioneer, a team that the Lady Chiefs set 26 lifetime bests against in winning by a 71-30 count. Swimmers with two or more bests that meet included Cimini, Haberl, Long, Nazarevych, Rupp, both Walkers and White.

Iroquois then set 21 lifetime bests in topping Williamsville South, 124-54. Two or more bests were recorded by Ally Canaple, Cimini, Clemens, Maggie Lenda and Alex Wheeler.

Sweet Home was the next opponent up for the Lady Chiefs, who prevailed by a 68-33 margin that was fueled by 21 lifetime bests. Clemens, Homac, Long, Rupp, Neleah Walker, White and Val Wolf all had two or more lifetime bests that meet, including Wheeler’s pool-record time of 2:16.08 in the IM and Allison Lenda’s pool-record time of 1:02.09 in the 100 backstroke.

“It was impressive that the two cousins both get a pool record in the same meet,’ O’Connor said. “They work so hard daily and it was great to see them hit their goals.”

The Lady Chiefs prevailed in their other tough meet of the season, a 55-39 win over Amherst on Sept. 26. The race of the day was the 100 breaststroke, where Mertzlufft and Melanie White took the top two spots to secure seven points to Amherst’s one.

Other Lady Chiefs recording bests included Canaple, Cimini, Long, Slachetka and Neleah Walker.

“Amherst is a strong team and they are set up similar to us with similar strengths,” O’Connor said. “It was great seeing our team swim hard for each other and step it up.”

Iroquois then dumped West Seneca East, 74-27, to improve to 6-0, and then took out Lake Shore on Oct. 3, 138-42. Multiple bests against East were recorded by Canaple, Clemens, Maggie Lenda, Long, Nazarevych, Nevada Walker and Wolf, while Maggie Lenda and Long had multiple bests against Lake Shore.

“As the girls look toward the end of season meets, it looks promising to finish even stronger than last year, when we placed third at the Large Schools ECICs — we’re in the Small Schools division this year — second at the Class B meet and fifth overall at sectionals while also qualifying in seven events for the state meet,” O’Connor said. “The girls have a lot more goals to achieve, and they are very motivated and have worked so hard this season. It’s a very special group of girls and I am proud of what they have accomplished so far and am excited to see what they will do at the end of the year meets.”

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