BRUNSWICK — Halfway through Monday afternoon’s Class B swimming and diving state championship meet, things looked bleak for the defending champion and heavily-favored girls of Cape Elizabeth High School.
A disqualification for leaving early in the opening 200-yard medley relay wiped out 32 points in a meet they were seeded to win by 31 over Greely, and the Capers were missing one of their two qualifying divers.
A 48-point deficit seemed a lot to make up, but Cape Elizabeth had one big glimmer of hope.
Olivia Tighe hadn’t yet dipped a toe in Leroy Greason Pool.
“It was a little anxious because I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” said Tighe, a junior. “A lot of it felt out of control, but we had a team talk and we were like, ‘Listen guys. We can come back from this. This isn’t impossible. We are the best swimmers in the state. We can do this.’ ”
After Tighe swam in the next three events – the 100-yard freestyle, the 500 free and the 200 free relay – a pool record and two state records had come down, and the Capers had surged to a lead of nine points over Greely.
They held it through the final 400 free relay – anchored by Tighe to a 15-second victory – to win their second straight Class B state title. The final score was 351-335 with Mt. Desert Island beating out Morse for third, 223-213.
Camden Hills was fifth at 161 followed by Yarmouth (153), John Bapst (152), Ellsworth (141), Belfast (117) and 12 other schools.
“They definitely felt pressure at the beginning,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond. “To see how hard they worked to come back, I think they feel really good about it, and they should.”
Tighe’s time of 50.23 seconds in the 100 free erased a nine-year-old pool record set by a swimmer from Amherst College as well as the three-year-old state mark of 51.02 by MDI’s Leila Johnston. Tighe followed that with a 25-second victory in the 500 free (5:03.21) and anchored the 200 free relay to a state record of 1:36.20 along with sophomore Caroline Mahoney and juniors Hope Campbell and Alicia Lawrence.
“Two state records in the span of three events, that’s impressive,” Raymond said. “I think that energized the team a lot. They know how hard she works.”
According to seeding, Greely appeared poised to pick up 32 points in the penultimate event, the 100 breast stroke, and take a lead of two into the concluding 400 free relay. The Rangers had three breast strokers ranked among the top 16, whereas Cape had only junior Maddie McCormick, seeded 14th.
From Lane 7, McCormick won her heat, the third of four, by shaving four seconds off her previous best time to place seventh overall in 1:14.61. Raymond immediately thought of Charlotte Sawyer’s improbable victory in the consolation breast stroke heat back in 2013, when morning trials and evening finals were still contested, and clinched a Cape Elizabeth state title.
“I’ve been working hard all season so it was really gratifying to have a really good swim,” said McCormick, who also placed seventh in the 200 individual medley, from a 13th seed.
Instead of a two-point deficit, the Capers held a 10-point lead into the 400 free relay, and Lawrence, Mahoney, Campbell and Tighe left no doubt, finishing within three tenths of the state record three of them helped set last year.
“All we were saying,” Tighe said, “was, ‘Safe start. Safe start.’ For us, the biggest thing was just winning the meet.”
Performer of the Meet honors went to Tighe for the second year in a row. Morse sophomore Olivia Harper also won two events and was part of the winning 200 medley relay.
After winning the 100 butterfly in 56.35, Harper lowered her own state record in the 100 backstroke to 54.64. That time surpassed a five-year-old Greason Pool record set by a collegiate swimmer from Hamilton.
Twin sister Hailey Harper won the 100 breast stroke in 1:07.82. Other individual winners were Greely junior Julia Bisson in diving with 396.30 points, Lawrence in the 50 free with 23.79 seconds, Mahoney in the 200 free with 1:53.67 and George Stevens Academy senior Ava Sealander in the 200 individual medley with 2:09.89.
“Their third and fourth swimmers had awesome meets to make up for that mistake at the beginning,” Greely coach Rob Hale said of the Capers. “They got in a hole and they responded. All of them responded.”
Thirteen different Capers earned points in individual events: juniors Tighe, McCormick, Lawrence, Hope Campbell, Casey Concannon, Maria Smith and Corinne Wight; sophomores Mahoney, Bella Eremita, Christian Pinette and Milo Cook-Sharp; and freshmen Emma Frothingham and Zoe Evans.
“Not just our top swimmers, but all the middle swimmers really had great days,” said Raymond, whose team lost the 2016 state meet to Greely by seven points in part because of a Cape Elizabeth false start in the 50 free. “We didn’t really talk about (the DQ). We just focused on what’s next, not on what already happened. You can’t do anything about that.”