The Mount Desert Island team celebrates winning the Class B boys’ state swimming and diving championship at Bowdoin College in Brunswick on Tuesday. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)
BRUNSWICK — As the final heat of the 500-yard freestyle was coming to a close, swim official Fran Fox moved into position near the starting blocks with a large hand-held bell to signal the leader of the final lap.
Trouble was, after 450 yards, Fox couldn’t tell who had the lead, Morse senior Ben Willertz or Ellsworth freshman Sean Hill.
Fox leaned left. He leaned right. Finally, he reached over the floating lane line separating the two swimmers and clanged his bell for both of them.
It was that kind of meet Tuesday at the Class B boys’ swimming and diving state championships. The overall lead changed hands six times before Mt. Desert Island finally pulled away from pre-meet favorite Ellsworth to win for the first time since a six-year MDI reign was ended in 2009.
Ellsworth had beaten MDI by 29 points in a mid-December dual meet, and by one at the Penobscot Valley Conference championship meet earlier this month in Orono. The Eagles fell short on Tuesday at Bowdoin College’s Greason Pool despite winning six of the 12 events, setting a meet record in the 200 free relay and falling half a second shy of another in the 400 free relay.
The final score was 343 to 326.5. Cape Elizabeth placed third at 239 followed by Morse (210), Camden Hills (159), Lincoln Academy (158), Belfast (143), Yarmouth (123) and 10 other schools. Defending champion Old Town fell to ninth with 118 points.
“We were singularly focused on this meet all year long,” MDI Coach Tony DeMuro said. “No matter what happened, we were like, ‘This is where we want to go fast.’ ”
According to seed times, Ellsworth held a 39-point advantage over MDI without factoring relays into the equation, which would have extended the margin to 65.
Ellsworth senior Camden Holmes won both the 50 and 100 freestyle, with a meet record of 21.16 in the former and 47.35 in the latter. Junior Richie Matthews won the 100 butterfly (52.93) and the 100 breast stroke (59.37).
Both swam on the 200 free relay that set a meet record of 1:29.54.
“We had best times across the board,” Ellsworth Coach Jim Goodman said. “We broke a couple team records. I’m very proud of all our guys.”
MDI’s top swimmer was junior Liam Sullivan, the two-time defending state champion at both the 200 individual medley and 100 breast. On Tuesday he set a meet record of 1:53.66 in the IM but swam backstroke instead of breast, and wound up with a meet record performance of 51.99 in that stroke.
Sullivan also swam on MDI’s victorious 200 medley relay and opened the 400 free relay with a leg (46.96) faster than Holmes’s winning time in the 100 free.
“The backstroke was our weakest event this year,” Sullivan said, “so Tony took me out of the breast stroke, threw me in the back stroke, and it was no longer our weak event.”
Indeed, it was the backstroke – the 10th of 12 events – that gave MDI the lead for good. Fellow junior Zeke Valleau placed sixth in back and teammates Isaac Weaver (second), Billy Kerley (seventh), Sam Mitchell (10th) and Luiz Estacio (14th) all scored in breast to more than offset the 1-11 showing by Ellsworth’s Matthews and Ian Brenner-Simpson to give MDI a lead of 22.5 into the concluding 400 free relay.
Needing only ninth to clinch the overall title, the Trojans placed second with Sullivan, Amos Price, Tyler Willis and Jacob Mitchell, within four second’s of Ellsworth’s blazing 3:17.68.
“The thing was, Ellsworth had the top seeds, so they could only go down,” Sullivan said. “Our boys could only go up, and they did.”
Willertz of Morse wound up edging Hill by less than a second in that closely-fought 500 free race, in 5:06.78. The other individual winners were Cape Elizabeth junior Rohan Freedman in the 200 free (1:49.33) and Yarmouth junior Sean Whynot in diving (271.35).
Of the 14 MDI swimmers with qualifying times, 12 scored in the state meet, including four freshmen. Seven placed sixth or better.
“This is what happens when you don’t focus on anything else,” DeMuro said. “You get to just go nuts at one time.”