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Champions Crowned as Montclair YMCA Swim Team Excels at State Championships

Elizabeth Habjan, a 7th grader, qualified for the YMCA National Championships in the 100 backstroke Credits: Jess Michaud
Natalie Dripchak, a 7th garder, won the New Jersey YMCA State championship in the 200 breaststroke Credits: Jess Michaud

Elizabeth Habjan, a 7th grader at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, became one of the youngest members in YMCA of Montclair Dolphins swim team history to qualify for the National Championships when she placed 6th in the 100 backstroke at the New Jersey YMCA State Championships.

Another 7th grader at Buzz Aldrin, Natalie Dripchak, also had a memorable championship weekend, winning the state title in the 200 breaststroke.

And two freshmen at Montclair High School, Sumner Smith and Mizell McEachin, were members of two Dolphin squads that broke team records in the 200 freestyle and 200 medley relays.

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Their performances were among the many highlights during several championship meets in the past few weeks, as the short course season comes to an end. Several athletes who excelled in their preliminary heats qualified for finals, as well.

At the New Jersey YMCA State Championships for swimmers ages 13 and older at Franklin and Marshall College from March 8-11, Habjan first qualified for the A final of the 100 backstroke in 59.95 seconds, dropping almost 4 seconds. She did even better in the final by touching the wall in 59.32 seconds _ a time that would have placed her 13th at the recent Meet of Champions featuring the fastest high school swimmers in the state.

She is the first female Dolphin athlete to qualify for the YMCA National Championships, held annually in April in Greensboro, N.C., since three high school seniors competed in 2016. One of those seniors was Charlotte O'Leary, a Montclair High graduate who is now a standout at Yale, and the two-time defending Ivy League champion in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.

On the boys' side, Smith and McEachin were cogs on record-breaking teams. They joined Killian Blitz of Verona and Christian Remache of Nutley to finish the 200 free relay in 1:35.78, eclipsing an 8-year-old team record. They finished in eighth place overall. Then, in the 200 medley relay, Smith and McEachin and Blitz were joined by Connor Townson of Glen Ridge and finished in 1:45.91 -- smashing the previous team record by two seconds. That was good for an 11th place finish.

At the New Jersey YMCA State Championships for swimmers ages 12 and under in Toms River, N.J., from Feb. 23-25, Dripchak won the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:30.32, or five seconds faster than her previous best. She also recorded six other top 10 finishes.

Howard Zhuang, of West Orange, meanwhile, won the 100 breaststroke, placed 4th in the 50 breaststroke, and 9th in the 200 breaststroke.

"Many of our swimmers registered personal best times and two of our swimmers are State Champions," said Paulo Madeira, head coach of the Dolphins swim team. "Congratulations to all!"

The YMCA of Montclair Dolphins swim team offers a year-round opportunity for competitive swimming in both YMCA and USA Swimming competitions as well as seasonal instructional clinics for aspiring competitive athletes. The team is comprised of girls and boys from age 6 through high school. More than 200 athletes train with the team each year. They compete at all levels, based on their skill set.

For more information about the Montclair YMCA Dolphins swim team, contact head coach Madeira at or 973-744-3400.

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