PERTH AMBOY, NJ - Scotch Plains already owned a 21-point win over the Chatham girls swim team this season, so the Lady Cougars came into the rematch as the underdogs.
But when it comes to the NJSIAA tournament, the Chatham girls are a different breed. They swim faster than anyone can predict.
"These girls love to swim in the state tournament and they always show up when it counts," Chatham coach Frank DiGiacomo said. "I don't think it's anything I did. They know when they have to swim fast and they show up and do it."
That's exactly what the Lady Cougars did on Friday when they stunned Scotch Plains, 97-73, in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Public B final at the Raritan Bay YMCA. It marked the seventh straight sectional crown won by Chatham.
Senior Emily Gorham powered Chatham (12-1-1) by winning the 50 free, the 100 free, swam the butterfly on the winning medley relay team and anchored the 400 freestyle relay team, which also touched first. Jackie Crater won both the 500 freestyle and the 100 backstroke and Alicia Iizuka posted her fastest-ever high school time of 1:04.52 in winning the 100 breaststroke.
A year ago, Chatham defeated Scotch Plains (14-2) in the regular season and the state tournament, both decided on the final race of the meet.
"We got beat by 20-something points and we were probably going into this as the underdogs, but at the same time last year we swam them and we beat them and we swam them again and beat them," Gorham said.
"The first race came at such an early point of the season that we've grown so much as a team and grown so much closer together. We figured out where everyone goes and works best. That helped us shape today's lineup. We went in with the attitude that we had nothing to lose. We're here to have fun, we're here to race and that's what we did."
Emily Gorham won the 50 free, the 100 free and swam on two winning relays for Chatham
Chatham's 200 medley relay team of Jackie Crater, Alicia Iizuka, Gorham and Nicole Tingley won in 1:47.01 to keep their undefeated streak alive.
"The medley is fun, too, because that team is undefeated so far and we wanted to keep it that way," Gorham said.
Chatham received contributions from the entire team, such as Olivia Polemeni, who finished second in the 50 free and Stephanie Crater, who came through with a third in the 100 backstroke.
Chatham senior Abbie Bigham contributed a second in the 500 freestyle, a fourth in the 200 free and swam on the 400 free relay team that placed third.
"In the back of my mind, I kind of thought of this as the last meet," Bigham said. "I've been swimming the same two events pretty much for the last four years and every time I try to do my best. This time was really special because I've been swimming with the same people and I really wanted to win this with all of them."
Chatham is now two wins away from a state championship.