Atlantic City High School girls swimming coach Bill Howarth knew his top swimmer was "ready to roll" days before the Meet of Champions began.
Junior Colleen Callahan entered the state championships with back-to-back titles in the 200-yards individual medley and 100 breaststroke. She also held the record in both events.
Howarth had a strong feeling she would three-peat.
"Whenever Colleen goes up for her races, I feel confident as a coach because I know there's no one else out there that likes to race like her," Howarth said in a phone interview Thursday night.
Callahan did not disappoint.
The 16-year-old Ventnor Heights resident won both events, breaking her own records in both. She took the 200 IM in a personal-best and state-record 2 minutes, 1.54 seconds - breaking her old record of 2:02.55. She then won the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.29. Her old record was 1:03.10.
Callahan is The Press' Girls Swimmer of the Year for the third season in a row. She is the first person to achieve the honor three straight years since Mainland Regional's Joanna Thomas won it from 2005-2007.
"It's unreal," Callahan said Wednesday night. "I was kind of shocked my freshman year, but I was thrilled last year and it just keeps getting better. I can't even really explain it. It's a great accomplishment."
As a freshman, Callahan helped Atlantic City win its first sectional title in program history. This season, she was part of another first.
She combined with fellow juniors Ayana Cox, Dominique Voso and Melissa Toy to win the program's first state relay title. The foursome stunned the competition and won the 200 medley relay in 1:48.66.
"Once we won that, which was a bit of an upset, that really propelled her into her other two (events)," Howarth said. "Winning with her teammates actually made her go even faster in her individual events. The adrenaline carried over and she was on quite a roll that day."
"It was so great to be able to win as a team at states," she said. "It was a great way to start the day. It really put some fire in my belly and made me want to swim faster for the rest of the day."
Callahan's other accomplishments this season included victories at the South Jersey Coaches Invitational and the Hackney High School Girls Invitational.
At the Coaches Invitational, Callahan broke her own meet record in the Division A breaststroke in 1:04.73. She also won the 200 IM (2:08.65). It was her third straight victory in both events at the meet. At the Hackneys, she won the same two events, which she also won in 2010. She missed the 2011 Hackneys with a sore shoulder.
Callahan said her biggest strength is her mindset.
"I'm really determined, and I'm pretty hard-headed," she said. "When I have my mind set, no one is going to stop me."
Team of the year
The Mainland Regional Mustangs won 10 straight meets and their second straight Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title before suffering their first loss of the season to Bishop Eustace 97-88 on Jan. 31. Mainland regrouped for a return trip to the South Jersey Public A final. The Mustangs led most of the way but eventually lost 91-79 to Cherry Hill East.
Sydney Boswell, Katie Adams, Kelly McGroarty, Bridget Keough, Morgan Walls, Rylie Devine and Samantha Boswell were all top contributors to the success of the Mustangs, who finished 12-2.
"I didn't realize that there was actually an award for that (team of the year) or recognition, but I think it's awesome because I've said all year long the team was made up of depth," coach John Rakowski said. "There were no standout swimmers like in the past, like a Joanna Thomas or Erin Curry. I hope the girls realize that this is a prestigious accomplishment and it took team unity and people working together for the good of the cause."
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