AC girls swim team
Frop top, Rachel O'Brien, Melissa Toy, Colleen Callahan, Rosemary Christian and Keanna Voso sit at the Atlantic City High School pool. Edward Lea

Colleen Callahan noticed the buzz grow with each meet the Atlantic City High School girls swimming team won this winter.

Callahan, a freshman from Ventnor, was the team's top swimmer. Her English teacher posted newspaper articles about the team on the classroom bulletin board. Friends, relatives and neighbors attended meets.

The Atlantic City girls swimming team won its first South Jersey championship in the program's 11-year history.

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"I feel in a way the school is seen a little differently," Callahan said. "I feel like us winning helped the school, seeing good things about Atlantic City in the newspaper helps. I'm really glad as a team we've been able to do that."

Traditional powers, such as Absegami wrestling and St. Augustine Prep basketball and swimming, had success this winter.

But the story of the season was the teams and individuals who won for the first time or the first time in many years.

Callahan and Ocean City boys basketball player Chris Curran of Ocean City are male and female Athletes of the Winter season because of what they helped their underdog teams achieve. Their schools reveled in their unexpected victories.

"We made disbelievers start to believe," Curran said.

Ocean City won the Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball title game for the first time in the event's 18-year history.

Curran looked into the stands during the season and saw more and more fans at every game. The student section, dubbed "Raider Nation," was larger and louder with each victory.

"That's something I always wanted," Curran said of the championship. "You look at the CAL championships. You always see Atlantic City, St. Augustine, Holy Spirit. Next year when the paper comes out and they talk about the game, our name Ocean City will be in there. That's awesome."

The Atlantic City girls swimming and Ocean City boys basketball teams were not alone.

The Lower Cape May Regional boys basketball team won its first conference title since 1985. The Atlantic City girls basketball team won the CAL title game for the first time. The Absegami boys won their first state indoor track and field title, and Jeff White of Middle Township won the school's first ever region wrestling championship.

Their success made events that had been held for 20 or 30 years seem brand new.

The Atlantic City girls swim team won just two meets four years ago. This year, Callahan and a couple of other freshmen sparked the Vikings to a 14-1 record and the South Jersey Public A championship.

Callahan capped the season when she won the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke at the state individual swimming championships.

Callahan said the Vikings succeeded because of their depth and how the swimmers felt about each other.

"It's not just about getting first place," she said. "The girls that get third and fourth place matter so much. We all got along. We're all friends. Winning made it so much better. It was the cherry on top. We all wanted to swim faster for each other."

The CAL basketball championships began in 1992.

Few teams ever celebrated winning the game like the Ocean City boys did after beating Lower Cape May 63-60 in overtime. Curran scored 33 points, including the winning 3-pointer with 15.7 seconds left.

"Raider Nation" rushed the court as the final buzzer sounded. They mobbed the players and chanted "O.C. O.C."

This winter of firsts created a lifetime memories for athletes, coaches and fans.

"I feel very blessed I was able to experience something as rare as winning the conference and CAL championship," Ocean City boys basketball coach John Bruno said. "I believe it was something that was left for the elite teams. I'm not sure we were an elite team, but we had an elite season."

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