Weekly Feature

2018-11-08 / Sports

Iroquois girls swimming takes novel approach to sectionals

After not getting to race any of the area’s Class A schools – like perennial powerhouse programs Orchard Park and Clarence – during the regular season, Iroquois’ girls swimming team took the approach of placing bulls-eyes on swimmers for those schools during any event in which they swam against one another at Friday’s annual Section VI Championships, held this year at the University at Buffalo.

That motivational tactic worked, as the Lady Chiefs put up a number of standout performances along the way to hitting the state-qualifying time in four separate events to highlight the day’s efforts.

“We wanted to beat Orchard Park whenever we could,” coach Mike O’Connor said. “Our girls are very impressive. When I first came here to coach, the girls were intimidated and I asked a fellow coach to bring his team in who had all three relays make states, as well as a couple of individual qualifiers, because I wanted our girls to learn a few things and see a few things. We learned so much from that loss a few years back. Since that day we learned we don’t like to lose, that we will fight to the end in every race and win all touch-outs, and that we can make states in any event if we want it bad enough where we work for it every single day.”

The meet started with the 200 medley relay, the race where Iroquois shocked everyone by winning last year and came within a fraction of a second of defending that title this time around. Allison Lenda, Melanie White, Alex Wheeler and Shelby Slachetka all posted lifetime splits to help the group finish in a state-qualifying time of 1 minute, 50.71 seconds.

“It was a great race for our girls,” O’Connor said. “It’s awesome that our girls stepped it up against all the teams in the section and almost pulled it off again. It’s very exciting when you can get your girls to do great stuff right away in a meet; it means the girls are ready to do some great things all meet long.”

In the 200 IM, White placed ninth and Wheeler took second while finally earning a trip to states in that event thanks to her season-best time of 2:12.71. The 50 free came up next and Slachetka, who always asks O’Connor before a race what she’ll go, came in right on the money when she posted a 25.34-second finish that was just a tenth of a second slower than what O’Connor predicted. Lenda joined her, just missing the state cut time with her seventh-place effort of 24.95 seconds.

“That was a great race for Shelby,” O’Connor said. “She’s only got to lose half a second to make the state meet next year. Shelby is just such a tough competitor; she’s always having fun but when it’s time to race she’s on point.”

The 100 butterfly was the next event, where Alex Wheeler took eighth in 1:01.06 and younger sister Sam Wheeler finished 20th in 1:04.84. In the 100 free, Slachetka placed eighth in a lifetime best 55.67 seconds, just one second off the state cut for next year, while Sam Wheeler swam to a 16th-place finish in the 500 free ahead of her lead-off leg in the 200 free relay – which included Sophia Nazarevych, Neleah Walker and Gabrielle Guzinski – that placed 19th overall.

Lenda then won the 100 backstroke with a time of 58.95 seconds that was just one-one hundredth of a second off her season-best time. One of the greatest races of the day, however, came when White trimmed her personal best time in the 100 breaststroke down to 1:10.41, placing ninth in the process.

“Allison just loves racing,” O’Connor said. “She doesn’t like to lose and she’s a hard worker every day in practice. She fights and, even though every turn wasn’t very good and her underwaters lacked a bit, it gives us great promise for the state meet. And Mel, she’s dropped a lot of time and her breaststroke has been looking really good in the meets. I’m just very proud of her and all the girls, really. All our coaches are very proud of everyone. It’s been a great last few years here with the swim team and it’s because of the culture and the work ethic we have.”

Iroquois closed out the swimming portion of the meet with a season-best time of 3:42.02 in the 400 free relay that was good for second place, as well as met the state qualifying standard.

Prior to the swimming portion of the meet, the diving championships were held on Thursday, where Kennedy Haberl placed seventh with her total of 371.40 points. One of her dives went for a perfect 10.

“Kennedy dove amazingly well that night,” O’Connor said. “I’m so proud of her; she’s worked so much harder this year and put a lot more time into diving, and it showed.”

For those who have qualified, the season will end next Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, with the state championship meet at Ithaca College.

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