MONTGOMERY: Perfect ending for Matheson

Senior wins fly, Warner second in breast at MOC swimming

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   It was the stuff of storybooks for Hannah Matheson.
   In the senior’s final day representing Montgomery High School in the pool, she won the 100 butterfly at the Meet of Champions on Sunday in a life-time best 55.59 seconds.
   ”I think it was definitely the perfect way to end my high school career,” Matheson said. “I couldn’t end my career any better.”
   Matheson was the top seed coming into the meet, but preliminaries Friday indicated she could have strong competition. Matheson had the third-fasted qualifying time with less than a tenth of a second separating the top three qualifiers.
   ”They were in the heat right before me,” Matheson said. “I knew the whole time the race was going to be super close. They’re amazing competitors. I knew it would be close. I just wanted to be top 3. I knew they’d all swim fast, especially those two. As long as I was top 3, I knew I’d be in a good position for finals.”
   Matheson went out quickly in the final to stay close to her friendly rivals, then used her strength over the second half of the race to pull away for the victory.
   ”We told her to go out and a little faster,” said MHS girls coach Claire Scarpa. “Carly Whitmer and her, they have this little rivalry. Carly beat her freshman and sophomore year. Hannah beat her junior and senior year. We told her if you stay with her, you can come back faster than her.
   ”Hannah was even at the turn, and by halfway through the lap, she was over a half a body length ahead of everybody and she just had to close it and she did.”
   It was the moment that Matheson had been waiting for since she took fifth at last year’s MOC, in the first year she had done an individual event after two years of swimming relays at the MOC.
   ”I’ve always thought it would be an incredible thing to win a meet like this,” Matheson said. “A few years ago, I never would have envisioned I could win here. Last year, after the meet, I wondered if I’d have a shot at doing it. To accomplish it feels amazing.”
   MHS nearly had a second gold medalist, but Zack Warner will settle for silver medal and another shot at gold as 100 breaststroke winner Andy Schuehler of Audubon/Collingswood will graduate. The Cougars junior swam 56.47 for a silver medal, a significant move up and three seconds better than he swam to finish seventh last year. Warner finished a full second ahead of the third-place finisher, Evan Mahoney of Central Regional.
   Matheson went into the meet knowing her top competition well from swimming plenty of meets together through the years. Isabelle Cecere of Mendham was second, Carter Orth of Moorestown finished third and Whitmer was fourth.
   ”Carly and I swim against each other at the Skyland meet every year, and I’ve known Isabelle for a long time too,” Matheson said. “I really like knowing my competition. It makes everything a little more fun. No matter what happens, you’re happy for everyone. You’re all still good friends.”
   Matheson made sure that she was the fastest of her friends. She broke under 56 seconds for the first time in her career, a big drop even over her Holiday Classic career best.
   ”I’ve been wanting to go that 55 for so long,” Matheson said. “It’s been such a goal. It wasn’t even 55-high. It was 55-mid. It was kind of unbelievable. I had to look at the clock a few times to make sure it was actually right.”
   Matheson finished her day by anchoring the Cougars 400-free relay to 10th place. The MHS girls also finished 19th in the medley relay with Katie King, Jessie Feng and Cassidy Bergeron. King was 16th in the girls 100 breast.
   ”We did really well in relays,” Matheson said. “Our 2 medley dropped two seconds from prelims and were right on our best. The girls swam well. We got 10th in the 400 free and dropped three seconds from our best so that was really good.”
   Matheson had also qualified for the 200 individual medley relay, but elected not to swim it Sunday.
   ”That was my decision,” she said. “I felt like doing both of the events, I did it last year and it was a lot. I know I’ll go to the sectionals and swim the 200 IM and 4 IM and fly. I knew focusing on just the fly would give me a better shot here.”
   Her freshman and sophomore years, Matheson only did relay events for the Cougars. She showed the state her best event individually the last two years, capped by this year.
   ”She hasn’t lost a fly all year,” Scarpa said. “She won the conference, she won the county. Hannah dominated the fly all year long.
   ”She has another big meet coming up,” she added. “I’m hoping she does it again for her. Her goal was to break into the 55s, and she did.”
   Matheson didn’t full taper for the MOC, but she did put a lot of stock into it with her father, who is her club coach.
   ”I was really looking forward to it,” Matheson said. “Me and my dad had talked about this meet. It’s a very good meet, it’s a fast meet. I was still training, but I rested a bit. I took the meet very seriously.”
   Her attitude paid off with her first gold medal at the Meet of Champions, and a spectacular send-off to Penn State University, where she will compete next year.
   Said Matheson: “I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end my high school career.”