MHS girls swim to first sectional title

Lin twins aid Cougars’ big win

By: Justin Feil
   BAYONNE — Jen and Loretta Lin already share plenty — from their facial features, long black hair and short stature to their beginnings with swimming at age 10.
   After the Montgomery High girls’ swimming team’s 108-62 win over Scotch Plains-Fanwood on Tuesday, the identical twin sisters shared large smiles after being a part of the Cougars’ first sectional championship.
   Top to bottom, it was quite a team performance — one that earned MHS the top seed for the state B semifinals against Mountain Lakes that were scheduled for Thursday. With a win, they’d swim for the state B crown 10:30 a.m. Sunday at The College of New Jersey.
   "It feels good," said Jen, the quieter, and overall faster, of the two Lin sisters.
   Jen barely held off her toughest Scotch Plains challenger in the 100 backstroke to keep her unbeaten streak alive in the North Jersey 2 B state tournament. Lin, along with Tuesday double-winner Katie Morrison, are the only two Cougars who have been unbeaten through the state tournament. Morrison again won the 200 and 500 freestyles Tuesday.
   The Lin sisters proved important Tuesday as Jen also finished third in a sweep of the 200 individual medley, led by Shana Conroy, who also won the 100 breaststroke. Allie Dubiel was second in the 200 IM.
   Loretta Lin, making a rare appearance in the 100 backstroke, finished fifth as MHS officially clinched the meet when it went 1-3-5 (Dubiel was third) to push beyond the 85-point plateau. Loretta earlier had picked up a key fourth-place finish in the 100 butterfly.
   "Jen and Allie go back and forth in every meet," said MHS head coach Claire Scarpa, whose team improved to 15-0 with Tuesday’s win. "I can always count on them to score a lot of points. Loretta swimming the back was new today. Normally, I put Jen Wei in, but Loretta went 1:09. That was great. I knew I could count on her to score some points."
   In order to advance to a state final, MHS will need both the first- and third-place finishes like it got from Jen on Tuesday as well as the crucial one- and two-point gains provided by Loretta.
   "The next round," Jen said, "you have to work a lot harder. There’ll be more nerves and not as much confidence."
   MHS came into their first sectional final with plenty of confidence. The top seed, they held a better than 500-power point advantage over Scotch Plains. Yet, they’d held a 900-point bulge over Governor Livingston in the North 2 B semifinals only to see the No. 5 seed have winners in seven of 11 events Friday. Even their 104-66 win over Caldwell featured fewer first-place finishes than they were accustomed to during the dual-meet season. MHS’ depth, however, propelled it to a finals berth.
   "I didn’t think Friday’s Governor Livingston meet would be that close," Scarpa said. "They had even less power points. But our other meets were more tense. I didn’t think we’d win the relays. They swam better and (Scotch Plains’) times weren’t as fast as what I’d seen.
   "This feels great," she added. "Even better than expected."
   The Cougars had a good feeling early. Dubiel, Conroy, Michelle D’Aguillo and Erica Hydrusko held off Scotch Plains to win the 200 medley relay, then Morrison, Kristen Prentice and Elyssa Romino went 1-3-4 in the 200 free before Conroy led and Jen Lin finished up the 200 IM sweep to open a 22-point advantage after three events. Scotch Plains got as close as 54-40 after taking first in the 100 fly and first and second in the 100 free for its only two wins of the meet.
   "We opened up a bigger lead in the beginning than the first meets," said Loretta Lin.
   The Cougars continued to add on the points and never felt overly threatened.
   "Towards the end," Jen added, "you kind of know (you’re going to win)."
   The fast start was just as helpful to Scarpa, who was also coaching in her first sectional championship.
   "I was very calm at the break (Tuesday)," she said. "I was a complete wreck at the other ones. It was huge to get that lead with the relay. I had the meet figured out to 104-66, but I didn’t have us winning the relays."
   It was just the second loss of the season for Scotch Plains, and the first of what the young Cougars hope will be many sectional finals. With a new school on the horizon, MHS’ win Tuesday already gave it the first banner to hang, and a nice sectional trophy with which to christen the natatorium.
   Last year, MHS lost in the first round of the state tournament, when the Lin sisters were freshmen. This year, everything has changed.
   "We got a number of new good people," Loretta said. "We have a lot more depth this year. We actually have lost races (in states) and still won.
   "I think we knew at least we’d win the first round," she added. "We have more depth now."
   With club swimmers like the Lin sisters — who both swim for X-Cel year-round — Montgomery improved quickly in a year. Even the Lin girls improved since last season.
   "I think we’ve both dropped a couple seconds since last year," Jen said.
   Added Loretta of the team: "We’re swimming more consistently. We added a couple people."
   That combination of improvement and fresh faces helped make MHS the sectional champions. The next step, which could pit them against some of their X-Cel friends from Princeton High if the Little Tigers knock off Moorestown, is just for fun. With most of the big points-winners due to return next year, it’s the first of several chances at a state B title.
   "I just want to take this and enjoy it," Scarpa said. "This is a bonus. Everything else is more of a bonus. This is just fantastic."
   It’s one of those unexpected surprises — quite like having twins.