Atlantic City High School has long been known for its basketball and football programs.

Melissa Toy and the rest of the seniors on the girls swimming team have added to that list.

The 17-year-old Ventnor resident won the 100-meter freestyle as the Vikings defeated Mainland Regional 93-77 to clinch the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference on Monday. Toy and her classmates also won the conference title as freshmen. Those are the only two conference championships in the history of the girls swimming program.

"A lot of my friends were going to Atlantic City," Toy said of her reason for choosing the school. "I knew we would have a good team. I think it's awesome we've been able to change the Atlantic City stereotype of not having good swimming teams."

Toy is one of the region's top sprinters. She comes from a swimming family. Her father, Mike, a retired Atlantic City Beach Patrol captain, swam and coached at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Toy, who has a 4.2 grade-point average, will attend Towson University in Maryland on a combination academic and athletic scholarship. The school is located outside of Baltimore.

"It's a beautiful campus, and I love the city of Baltimore," she said. "It's a good distance away from home. That's far enough away to be away from, but it's close enough for my parents to come up for swim meets."

In a telephone interview Monday night, Toy spoke about a number of topics, including her summer job as a Ventnor lifeguard and her interest in photography.

On how she got started swimming: Since I live near the beach, my parents wanted me to be able to swim. They put me in swimming lessons when I was young, and I started swimming for the Egg Harbor Township Seahawks (club team) when I was 7. At first, I didn't like lessons. But as I got older, I started to like it better. And by the time I got on the swim team, I liked it a lot.

On how she chose swimming as her main sport: When I was younger, I did a lot of different sports. I didn't consider swimming my main sport until I was around 13 or 14. I played soccer, basketball and softball and did dance classes when I was younger. But I started having success in swimming, and I realized I enjoyed racing and I wanted to pursue that.

On swimming sprint freestyle races: There's not any time to pace yourself. You have to go out as fast as you can and hope you can hold your speed for the whole race. In the 100 on the last lap, your legs tend to burn a lot. But you have to keep going and hope for the best.

On her favorite class: It's biology. I decided I want major in college in biology. It's cool to just learn about life and signs of life. I want to become a physical therapist and majoring in biology gives me more options.

On how she balances academics and sports: It's hard. I try to find downtime during school to get homework and studying done. I just have to manage my time well at home. I try to get as much done as efficiently as possible.

On her summer job as a Ventnor lifeguard: Last summer was my first year. It was hard, but I liked it. Not a lot of people can say that they work on the beach. I didn't really have any (dramatic) rescues. There were a couple of times I had to run out and grab a little kid who was floating away.

On her interest in photography: Over the past couple of years, ever since I took a class sophomore year, I've taken up photography. I like to take different pictures at the beach. I like to (use) Photoshop on my computer. It's something that's different to do.

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