There are many ways to win a championship.
There’s profiling your way to a crown (see: Ali, Muhammad), there’s battling your way to a title with grit and determination (see: Ravens, Baltimore), and there’s winning it all through sheer dominance – the kind of supremacy that makes onlookers aware that there’s absolutely no doubt you’re the best around.
See: Cougars, Catholic.
On Feb. 8, the Charlotte Catholic girls swimming and diving team, which has made a habit of winning titles for the past decade or so, put on one of the most scintillating performances in recent state meet history. At Cary’s Triangle Aquatic Center, the Cougars throttled the state record books, scoring 469 points – 211 better than runner-up Marvin Ridge – to win their 12th consecutive state title.
Last week, the Cougars won their eighth Class 3A state crown in a row after winning four consecutive Class 2A titles. Next year, Charlotte Catholic moves up to the Class 4A level, but this year’s championship helped them exit the 3A classification with some special memories.
In all, the Cougars set nine 3A state records, including five all-classification marks, while winning all but one of the swimming events (the 500 freestyle).
“This one was probably one of the most successful state meets we’ve had,” Catholic coach Brian Gross said. “It’s kind of bittersweet because it’s our last 3A meet, but the kids did swim as fast as they could. I think they surprised themselves a little bit, too, because of the adrenaline and how much they bonded as a team this year. The times they pulled out, I’m not sure they were expecting some of those.”
Nora McCullagh and Lauren Rhodes were double individual winners for Catholic.
McCullagh was named the meet’s Most Valuable Performer, as she achieved All-American Automatic times in both the 50-yard freestyle (22.92 seconds) and 100 backstroke (55.09). Her 50 freestyle clocking set an all-classification record and made her the first girl in state history to record a sub-23-second time in that event.
Rhodes shattered her own 3A state mark in the 200 freestyle by well over two seconds with a time of 1:47.98. She also won the 100 freestyle (50.02).
The Cougars set an all-classification record by more than two seconds in the 200 medley relay, as Nicole Emery, Sara Stranick, Elsa Welshofer and Maria Sheridan finished in 1 minute, 45.52 seconds. The Catholic quartet of McCullagh, Emery, Welshofer and Rhodes established a new mark in the 400 free relay (3:24.61). McCullagh, Allison McDonough, Sheridan and Rhodes combined forces to shatter the 200 freestyle record (1:35.00).
Catholic’s other individual winners included Welshofer, who set an all-classification record in the 100 butterfly (54.69); Emery won the 200 IM with an All-American Automatic time (2:02.01); and Stranick took home gold in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.00).
Gross said he’s never been a part of any swim meet, let alone a state championship, that was so one-sided.
“No, besides last year, when we lost the breaststroke, the 500 and the backstroke,” he recalled. “But this year was incredible. We won every event except the 500 free – and we went second and third in that.
“This is just a coach’s dream,” Gross continued. “The girls we had on the team this year, the talent that they brought, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They’re just a dominant group of girls. As a coach, you always want a good group of kids. You always worry about cliques and who’s hanging with who, but we didn’t have that. Everybody got along with everybody, and there was no drama.”
There certainly wasn’t any drama at last week’s state meet, where the Cougars took all the suspense out of figuring out who would win the championship.