Diane Hu and Jacelyn Tarn have been on the High School North girls’ swim team since they were freshmen.
The senior captains have seen consistently modest success, and they were hoping for a big finish to their high school careers since neither plans to swim in college next year.
Neither could have envisioned an ending this memorable. The Knights followed up their first unbeaten regular season in school history with their first Mercer County Championship victory in school history.
“I’m so grateful that this year I got to feel like what it’s like to go undefeated, and to win the Mercer County championship,” Hu said. “I feel like finally after three years, the hard work from the coaches and all the teammates has paid off. I’m hoping the next few years after this our streak will keep going.”
The Knights have never finished better than third place, which happened in 2009. They were seventh at last year’s county meet, but gained momentum and confidence through a 12-0 regular season this year and carried it into the county meet that they hosted.
“It was honestly unbelievable,” Tarn said. “I never saw this coming for the team, especially when I was an underclassman. I knew our team was pretty good, and we had some fast swimmers. I didn’t know collectively we could achieve this.”
Many of the Knights’ fastest swimmers are freshmen, and their contributions to this year’s breakthrough season were vital.
Victoria Zhang was the only individual WW-P North swimmer to place in the top three at counties. The freshman won the 50 freestyle by a fingernail and then took second in the 100 free. Fellow freshman Ashley Agoglioti scored major points with a fourth in the 200 individual medley and a fifth in the 400 free, and another freshman, Naomi Ho, was fourth in the 100 butterfly and sixth in the 200 IM. Heather Murphy and Lauren Chan were also key freshman additions to the championship effort this year.
WW-P North scored 199 points to pull away from Hightstown, which had 153. Princeton was third with 148 points. High School South placed sixth with 116 points.
“To win it this year was really special,” said WW-P North head coach Todd Robinson. “We had great senior leadership this year and had four or five really talented freshmen come in. Even though at a meet like the county meet, our club swimmers may score a preponderance of the points, over the course of the season you really need a stable of club and non-club swimmers to complete a team and really have an opportunity to do something special.”
Keeping that Class of 2021 together on the team will give North optimism that its success will continue. The Knights earned the top seed for their section of the state tournament.
As the top seed, the team received a double bye to the public semifinals, and was set to compete on Feb. 12, after The News went to press.
“Even though we’re top seed, we haven’t swam against many of these teams,” Tarn said. “We’re going to try our best.”
The Knights have kept a positive outlook all year as they built on each step of success. Just going undefeated was a significant achievement.
“During the season we had really difficult meets like Robbinsville and Hightstown, but we overcame that as a team,” Hu said. “It was a pretty big accomplishment to come out undefeated.”
WW-P North was confident in its abilities, but regular-season success does not always translate into MCC success. This year, the Knights have the depth to win dual meets and the talent to take counties. Aside from Zhang, their only top-three finish came from the 200 freestyle relay.
“It’s great to be a part of it and have everyone swim their best,” Tarn said. “Our team is very deep and we knew we’d be getting fast swimmers, but we didn’t know that we were capable of achieving a title.
“In past years, we’ve done well in the regular season but in the counties we weren’t high up in the team scoring. This year, winning all the dual meets set us up, and we knew we were capable of winning the whole thing.”
Hu and Tarn did their best to build team chemistry, and keep girls from a wide variety of swim backgrounds together. They took their job as captains seriously while contributing as much as possible with their swims. Hu added depth to the breaststroke while Tarn moved from doing fly to more of a sprinter, but their biggest contributions may have come out of the pool.
“One really big job for captains is communication between the team and the coach, being in the middle and trying to pass on information from each.” Hu said. “One thing that can make a team fall apart is not getting the right information to the other swimmers. I think Jacelyn and I did a good job of telling our teammates what the coaches wanted without seeming too overburdening.”
They made sure that the Knights had the right attitude about the season. “Everyone comes to practice with a really positive attitude because we always have that vibe between all the teammates that we feel like more of a team this year,” Hu said.
Tarn said that serving in her second year as captain, “I know better what to do and I have a better relationship with all the swimmers. We always talk about our individual goals. We try to focus on the little things. Towards the end of the season, it all came together and we ended up accomplishing great things.”
The Knights believed that they had the ability to win because of how their regular season went. Tarn knew from experience how much better WW-P North was competing this year.
“Swimming our big meets showed how good we could be,” she said. “Our biggest meets are South, Notre Dame, Princeton and Lawrence, and we got by each meet by several points, not just a little gap, but maybe 20 points. That let us know we were capable of achieving bigger things.”
WW-P North did not toy with its regular dual-meet lineup much for the county meet. They kept their girls in the events that they were best in and did not overthink matchups. Their resulting swims earned enough points to win.
“Going into the meet, looking at our seeding, we felt we had a good chance to score high,” Robinson said. “After the trials, we looked at things again and it looked like if we swam to our places we had a good chance of winning the championship. Fortunately that’s how it turned out for us.”
In the end, it was the Knight girls celebrating the loudest in front of their home fans. WW-P North sent its seniors out on top by making history.