For Catholic girls swimmers, it’s 11th heaven

by Andrew Stark

The Charlotte Catholic girls swimming and diving team won the Class 3A state title last week, marking its 11th consecutive state crown. (Courtesy of Brian Gross)

Just how dominant was the Charlotte Catholic girls swimming and diving team at the Class 3A championships on Feb. 9?

For starters, the Cougars girls set four state records and won eight of the 11 events overall, en route to taking their 11th consecutive state team title.

“I have been telling my friends and family that it was the swim meet of a lifetime,” Catholic coach Brian Gross said. “I have been coaching a long time and swam growing up, and you just don’t see performances like that.”

Catholic’s 496 points were more than 200 better than their closest opponent. The win marked their seventh consecutive 3A title after winning four in a row at the 1A/2A level.

Entering the meet, Gross emphasized to his girls the importance of being relaxed and focused.

“I told them to get off to a good start in the medley relay, and we were able to do that and set a state record in the process,” Gross said. “We got off to a great start and kept it going.”

Sophomore Lauren Rhodes was named the meet MVP as she set new 3A records in the 100-yard freestyle (50.55 seconds) and 200 freestyle (1 minute, 50.22 seconds). She also anchored two relay teams that set the all-classification state marks.

“I don’t have words for (Rhodes’ performance) – it was amazing,” Gross said. “As a sophomore, she is starting to come into her own as a swimmer and a leader for us.”

Catholic’s other individual state champions included Nicole Emery, who won the 200 individual medley (2:03.63); Nora McCullagh, who took the 50 freestyle (23.85); and Elsa Welshofer, who claimed the 100 butterfly (56.09).

McCullagh, Ashlyn Koletic, Welshofer and Rhodes set the 400 freestyle relay all-classification record (3:26.68). Catholic earned another all-classification record in the 200 freestyle relay, which featured Maria Sheridan, Christine Sullivan, McCullagh, and Rhodes in 1:37.05.

Sheridan, Allison McDonough, Welshofer and Koletic took the 200 medley (1:46.56).

The Cougars girls came in second in each of the three swimming events they did not win, and finished second in the diving competition. Sullivan was second in the 100 backstroke (57.69) and became the first Cougar to break the five-minute barrier in the 500 freestyle (4:59.62). McDonough was second in the 100 breaststroke, and Beth Rusterholz was runner-up in the diving competition (336.65 points).

“It was almost the perfect meet for us as a team,” Gross said. “We started strong and were able to build on the energy that we got started, and each event added more fuel to the fire. It was unbelievable.”

The Charlotte Catholic boys finished in second place for the fourth consecutive year, coming in 47 points behind Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons.

Matthew Rigali had the boys’ highest individual finish, as he came in second place in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:00.20. Rigali teamed with Kevin Kirby, Nick Rhodes and Ryan Hall to place third in the 200 medley relay (1:41.64).

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