MAPLEWOOD, NJ - For the second time in three years, the Columbia High School (CHS) girls’ swim team could go undefeated.
But no matter what happens, this year’s team has already done something the 2015-2016 squad that went 14-0 could not do – win the Super Essex Conference (SEC) tournament.
That victory came on Monday when the CHS girls took first place in the countywide contest that includes the best swimmers from 13 high schools.
CHS swimmers amassed 187.1 points, nearly 30 points ahead of second place Montclair. In addition, the team came in first in the 400-yard and 200-yard freestyle relays.
Individual wins went to freshman Katharina Dowlin for the 100-yard freestyle and to senior co-captain Marie Fagan for the 500-yard freestyle.
“We completely dominated this meet,” said coach Maggie Singler, a CHS graduate who has overseen the team for six seasons.
CHS girls came in fourth in the same tournament last year and fifth two years ago.
The meet is special also because it is an extra bonus for a team that is currently 8-0 in dual meets, with its next competition set for Wednesday night against Montclair.
“It’s going to come down to depth, whoever comes in third and fourth as well,” Singler said about the coming match-up. “There’s a mix of veterans and new faces and they mesh really well.”
Singler, who has also coached CHS field hockey and works days as a learning consultant in Rahway public schools, said the team prepares well for meets and she takes them seriously.
She also coaches the CHS boys swim team, which is having a great year of its own at 7-1.
“I’m really competitive,” Singler said. “I do a lot of research on the other team and I go from there with who I think will do best.”
Another big change since the last undefeated team has been the loss of a home pool. South Orange - Maplewood school district officials shutdown the CHS pool in 2016 after safety concerns arose following that undefeated season.
An engineer’s report issued months later found that the pool was in danger of s collapse that could have caused severe flooding of the immediate area, adding that there were potential "health issues" because the ventilation system within the pool was no longer operational.
School district officials have yet to decide what to do with the space, although renovating the pool up to acceptable standards appears unlikely. Any renovation to change it to classrooms or other non-pool use would likely cost millions of dollars.
District officials this week did not respond to a request for comment on the future use of the space.
Since the closing of the CHS pool, the girls and boys swim teams have practiced and held home meets at the Union Boys and Girls Clubs.
“It’s a big change,” Singler said. “However, everyone is so dedicated, it’s unbelievable.”
Practice time is now later in the evening, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., rather than after school due to available pool time, and swimmers can no longer walk down the hall to practice. Each must get him or herself to the Union location without buses.
Some feared the team would suffer from having to practice so late and travel to another town, not to mention the potential loss of fan support the new location might cause.
Two years ago, the viewing area of the CHS pool was often packed for home meets as the girls swam to undefeated success and fellow students could simply stop by after class to root them on.
“There’s positives and negatives,” Singler said. “They can go to teachers and clubs after school, go home and do homework, have dinner and then practice. But you also have to take a break if you are doing homework. It is a balancing act.”
But with another winning season underway and the historic SEC tournament championship, the girls seem unaffected by the changes that have occurred and remain focused on more success as the season continues.
“We have made it work,” Singler said. “The parents are there every night. It’s outstanding, a complete team effort.”
Wednesday night's meet against Montclair is set for 8:30 p.m. at the Union Boys and Girls Club, 1050 Jeannette Ave., Union.