Every Wednesday night at 8, Lauren Conte eagerly awaits the arrival of an e-mail from the swim coach at Phillips Academy in Andover, Paul Murphy.
Murphy stamps the message confidential, advising his swimmers and divers not to share it with any friends. It contains the lineup for the upcoming meet, and there are changes on a weekly basis.
“Getting the lineup is the highlight of our week,” said Conte, a junior from Methuen.
“You never know what [event] you’re going to be swimming, and seeing that is always cool and gets us pumped.”
That element of surprise has propelled the Phillips Academy girls to a perfect 6-0 record.
The team’s greatest strength is its versatility, and each swimmer’s ability to step into interchangeable roles when needed most.
“We can offset an area where we’ll be weak,” said Murphy, who has been coaching the girls’ program at the prep school since 1991.
“I don’t like to put the kids in the same events every week, so them being able to do multiple events lends for an air of surprise. It’s fun to have a little mix-and-match.”
Conte embodies Murphy’s philosophy: She has competed in a different event every year. This season, she races primarily in the 100-yard butterfly, the 100-yard backstroke, the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“We all have events we prefer, but what it comes down to is what needs to be filled,” Conte said. “Those were events we needed to fill, and I was more than happy to do that for the team.
“When it comes down to dual meets, depth wins the meet.”
On Saturday night, Conte teamed up with juniors Danielle Liu and Amy Zhao , along with senior Hailey Novis, for a victorious time of 1:52.40 in the 200-yard medley relay, helping Andover secure a 100-86 win against rival Phillips Exeter Academy, the defending New England Prep School Swimming Association champion.
However, Phillips Andover, 29-1 in dual meets the past four seasons, will not attend the NEPSSA championship meet. Each school is only allowed to be represented by two swimmers in each individual event, which Murphy says would deny six or seven of his athletes the opportunity to compete.
Instead, the team will depart Thursday for the 113th annual Eastern Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships at La Salle University in Philadelphia, which takes place Friday and Saturday and allows up to five swimmers in each event.
The Easterns is considered one of the most prestigious swimming meets in the region, attracting swimming powerhouses like the Peddie School in New Jersey, and Mercersburg Academy (Pennsylvania).
“It’s a decision we had to make at the beginning of the season,” Murphy said. “We’re making the right decision in what can be our final meet, and we’re swimming against the faster kids. We’ll see some really good competition this coming weekend.”
Lucy Frey , a senior captain from Andover who swims at the Andover/North Andover swim club with Conte, said the team has embraced the opportunity to swim at Easterns.
“It’s definitely different from New England’s — there are great swimming schools and we’re excited to get a feel for the schools that are out there and compete with them,” said Frey, who will swim at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., next season.
“We wanted to compete against the schools we’ve been competing against all season, but it’s a huge experience; we’re looking forward to it.”
Freshmen help boost Westford at states
Westford Academy girls’ swim coach Caitlin Klick-McHugh was well aware of the capabilities of a number of her upperclassmen, such as senior Kelly Huber and junior Jen Marrkand.
What she didn’t know is how her six freshmen would compete under the bright spotlight at Springfield College’s Art Linkletter Natatorium for Saturday’s Division 1 state championship meet.
“We’ve been a strong team for a couple of years with a talented junior and senior class,” Klick-McHugh said. “But we started some new traditions and brought some freshman talent to the team and wanted to see how they could perform.”
The coach was more than satisfied with their effort as Westford repeated as Division 1 state champs, rolling up 351.5 points.
Freshman Emma Goselin helped propel the 400-yard medley relay team to a first-place finish, and placed sixth in the 500-yard freestyle (5:20.96) while shaving 10 seconds off her personal best. She also finished seventh in the 100-yard breaststroke.
“She swam out of her mind,” Klick-McHugh said. “She’s just another example of freshmen who you need to rely on. They’re so young so you don’t know how they respond in high-pressure situations, and she just responded so well.”
Freshman diver Hannah Rosenstein placed 16th in the 1-meter dive to earn a point. A year ago, the Grey Ghosts did not place in diving; this year, they placed in all 12 events.
The freshmen, according to Klick-McHugh, followed the lead of the elders like Huber, who three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, and Marrkand, who set meet records in the 200-yard individual medley (2:02.22) and the 100-yard backstroke (55.2).
“We have such a strong group of upperclassmen, and what stood out is how they led by example and brought the freshmen up,” Klick-McHugh said. “They’ve been through some high-pressure situations, and they’ve worked well with the freshmen and sophomores.”