PISCATAWAY, NJ - The Governor Livingston girls swim team surprised many with an epic third place overall team score at Union County Championships besting rivals Oak Knoll, Cranford and Summit along the way on Sunday at Rutgers University. In its highest UCC finish in decades, behind only powerhouses Scotch Plains and Westfield, Coach David Closs got team records and personal bests from an inspired team all day long.
Junior Sarah Montagna brought home the Union County Championship in the 500 Free and Bailey Gold scored a third place finish in 100 Fly and second place finish in 100 Back.
Starting the meet off, Closs told his talented 200 Medley Relay team of Sarah Montagna, Ashlyn Shallcross, Bailey Gold and Sarah Polizzi that they needed to set the tone for the day – and they came through for him with a new all-time GL record of 1:54.47 – good for a 6th place finish.
Next up, Aidan Donahue set a fast pace with a speedy 200 Free time of 2:00.87 along with Nicole Biegel 2:09.81 and Shannon Scieczka 2:13, all individual GL best times for each this year. “The girls swam out of their minds fast in the 200 Free,” Closs said. “The girls came out like gangbusters in the beginning of the meet and reset their own school record in the 200 Medley Relay, then Aiden comes in and does a 2 flat that gets everyone else excited – a fantastic start to the meet.”
Sarah Montagna then got 6th place points with a solid 2:15.83 in the 200 IM followed by Ashlyn Shallcross 2:26.97 and Julia Woo 2:29.18. Closs was impressed with the quality swims in this event. “It was incredible – the girls were doing personal bests and scoring in the top 8, which is where the big points are,” he explained. “We were hanging in there with the Scotch Plains and Westfields and Summits and everyone else all day long.”
Sprinter Sarah Polizzi set the pace in the 50 free at 26.06 followed closely by a surging Indiana Curtis 26.36 and Sena Hur 28.28., which further impressed Closs. “These girls were really fantastic. Sarah had been sick all week so I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of her but she came in with a personal best,” he said. “And we’ve had a ball with Indiana for the past four years. She’s been a little bit up and down at times but boy, she came to swim today and was really great.”
Sophomore sensation Bailey Gold was next up in the 100 fly and blazed a MOC (Meet of Champions) cut time of 59.16 good for 3rd place points and a new all time GL record. “Bailey getting a top 3 in the 100 Fly and later getting second in the 100 Back was huge…any time you can get in those medalist positions that just tells you that you are a really quality swimmer,” Closs said. “And more importantly, these kids are all really good quality kids.” Serena Shen and Shannon Sieczka both followed with pr’s of 1:06.57 and 1:10.78 respectively in the 100 fly. The 100 Free, much like the 50 Free, saw Sarah Polizzi 58.61 come in as the fastest GL swimmer, followed closely by Indiana Curtis 58.69 and Sena Hur 1:03.13.
The 500 Free saw Sarah Montagna finally break through with a brilliant victory, besting Scotch-Plains’ Caroline Warren by three 100’s of a second – 5:16.09 to 5:16.12 in what has to be the swim of the day for GL and crucial first place points for the team. “Any time you get a county champion title, it’s a big deal - now you’re the Union County Champion,” Closs said. “I was so proud of her, seeing her come from behind and out touch the first place seed after losing a couple of heartbreakers in the last few years.” Somewhat lost in all the excitement were equally great efforts in the 500 free by fourth place finisher Aidan Donahue 5:24.04 and Jen Collins 5:48.13. “Jen was an absolute beast in the 500 Free – she doesn’t really like the event that much but she does whatever we ask her to do and she always comes through and does a great job.”
Sensing that his team was in the hunt, Closs told his 200 free relay team he needed 26 lows from each and once again the team came through. Sarah Polizzi 26.37, Indiana Curtis 26.02, Nicole Biegel 26.35, and Aidan Donahue 26.06 teamed up for a swift 1:44.82 and fourth place points for the team.
Bailey Gold followed her earlier top three 100 Fly with a screaming 100 Back time of 58.86, good for second place points as well as her second MOC cut and her second all time GL record. Julia Woo took off over three seconds from her season’s best with a 1:06.32 and Serena Shen shaved over a second off at 1:11.46. Closs expressed his admiration for these efforts throughout the meet. “Bailey was just beautiful in the 100 Back, and Julia and Serena both dropped time, too.”
Ashlyn Shallcross kept the ball rolling with a powerful 100 Breast time of 1:10.61 good for 5th place and a pr. “Ashlyn really stepped up huge today, “ Closs added. “It was great to see that huge smile on her face after her race, you could really see how pleased she was.” The GL girls finished the meet strong with more inspired swims in the 4 X 100 Free Relay starting with Sarah Montagna 56.37, Aidan Donahue 58.44, Julia Woo 57.58, and Bailey Gold 55.40 good for 4th place points.
GL finished with 228.5 points, which placed them solidly in 3rd overall.
Closs sees a team on the rise with a lot of exciting challenges ahead. “Our 200 medley relay team has been good for a while but our 200 and 400 free relays were not so hot for a long time,” he noted. “Both of those relays are now really close to both the school records and the MOC cuts, and I’m really hopeful that we might get one or both of them sometime this year.”
The surprise 3rd place finish was a long time coming. “It’s been about 25 years since we placed in the top three, certainly not in my memory,” Closs said. “The girls did a fabulous job and I am really proud of all of them”.