"Complete success. ... Mission accomplished."
That is how Atlantic City High School swimming coach Bill Howarth describes senior Colleen Callahan's remarkable scholastic career.
The 17-year old Ventnor resident set a new standard of excellence for high school girls swimming on March 3 at the Meet of Champions at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, winning the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke events for the fourth year in a row.
She became the first girls swimmer in New Jersey history to win four MOC titles in each of two events.
The University of Tennessee-bound swimmer broke her own MOC record in the 200 IM (2 minutes, 00.72 seconds) and took the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.78, missing the event record she set in 2012 (1:01.29) by .49 seconds.
Callahan is the 2012-13 Press Girls Swimmer of the Year, the fourth year she has won the award.
"It's definitely surreal," Callahan said Friday. "It hasn't really set in yet. I think it will set in more next year once I'm in Tennessee and I'm not going to be at states again. I'll just realize and think back on all of my high school accomplishments."
Callahan only lost one individual race her entire high school swimming career.
On February 23, 2010, Howarth tried her in the 100 butterfly event in a 97-73 loss to West Windsor-Plainsboro South in the State Public A semifinals.
From there she went on to win her first two individual state titles. She set and reset the 100 breaststroke records at all three major local individual competitions - the Hackney Invitational (1:11.36, 2013), the South Jersey Interscholastic Coach's Association Invitational Meet (1:04.73, 2012) and the Cape-Atlantic League Championships. (1:12.72, 2011).
She also holds the 200 IM record of 2:08.45 at the Coach's Meet, which she set this year. The only records that eluded her are the Hackney Invitational and CAL Championships 200 IM records, set by Mainland Regional's Joanna Thomas (2007) and Egg Harbor Township's Mackenzie Howarth (2008), a niece of Bill Howarth, respectively.
"I'm glad that I've been able to set the bar high for South Jersey swimming because a lot of times it had been more known for North teams winning state championships," Callahan said. "So hopefully a lot of the upcoming swimmers will be able to follow after me and do really well."
Even approaching Callahan's achievements will be difficult.
"People don't realize how hard it is to do what she's done, pressure-wise, being the type of person that everyone expects you to win all the time," Howarth, her coach, added. "That's why we always try to have some fun. We already knew what kind of pressure she was under, and she handled it wonderfully always being 100 percent prepared. It's so hard to be the best and to stay the best."
Callahan qualified for the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., last summer. She placed 45th among 152 competitors in the 100 breaststroke and 40th among 118 in the 200 breaststroke. The experience reminded her of how special being part of a high school team can be.
As a freshman, Callahan helped lead the Vikings to the first South Jersey Public A title and Cape-Atlantic League American Conference championships in program history. She led Atlantic City again this season to the conference title and to the sectional final, where it lost to defending champion Cherry Hill East.
Asked about her favorite moments of her high school swimming career, she always says it was winning the 200 medley relay with classmates Ayana Cox, Dominique Voso and Melissa Toy at the 2012 MOC.
Howarth spoke of times when Callahan would count laps for the distance swimmers during the 400 or 500 freestyle events or announce divers from 2010-2012 during the dual-meet season.
"Colleen was the main cog in the wheel," he said. "She was the one who kept it all together, but she was also the biggest cheerleader on the team, too. It really helps having the fastest girl on the team being really supportive of all her teammates. She had a lot of fun."
Team of the Year
Atlantic City took an undefeated record all the way to its second appearance in the South Jersey Public A final before falling to two-time champion Cherry Hill East 93-77 and ending the season 12-1.
The Vikings, who are ranked No. 2 in the final Press Elite 11, showed plenty of fight in winning the first eight events but couldn't combat the Cougars' depth.
During the regular season, Atlantic City captured the second CAL American title in program history, the first since 2010. The Vikings also took six of the 11 events at both the CAL Individual Championships and the Hackney Invitational. Atlantic City won its first Coach's Meet team title since 2010 with five individual victories.
Seniors Elvia Alvarez, Callahan, Cox, Toy, and Voso capped their high school swimming careers with a 44-8 record compiled over the last four years.
"It's not something that was easily acquired because we had to work hard over the last four years to grow to this point," Cox, a 17-year old Atlantic City resident, said. "I'm just glad that we were able to make the program what it is."
Coach of the Year
Mainland Regional coach John Rakowski led his team to the program's first sectional title, 87-83 over defending champion Haddonfield, in the South Jersey Public B final.
Down 65-59 after the 200 freestyle relay, Mainland took the final three events for the victory. Mainland, ranked No. 3 in the final Elite 11, is the first local team to win the South Jersey Public B title since the sections were divided into two in 2004.
Rakowski guided the Mustangs to a 12-2-1 record.
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