CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Oakcrest High School girls swimming team made sure the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference title didn’t slip away Friday.
Oakcrest earned a 91-79 victory over host Middle Township and clinched its third straight conference championship at the Cape May County Special Services pool.
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The Falcons led 45-33 after the 100-yard butterfly, but Middle outscored Oakcrest in the next three events to trail 63-61.
Both teams went into the meet at 4-0 in the six-team conference, and Middle would have won its first National title with a win. Oakcrest improved to 6-2 overall, and the Panthers fell to 5-2.
Oakcrest freshmen Bella Pagan and Kaitlyn Stollenwerk finished first and second, respectively, in the 100 backstroke to put their team back in charge at 75-65.
“It feels great to win the championship because everyone worked so hard,” said Pagan, a 14-year-old Mays Landing resident. “I’m really proud of everyone on the team.
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“I was really nervous going into the backstroke. I swam my best, and I’m glad my friend Kaitlyn got second.”
Mike Demarest guided Oakcrest to the title in his first year as its coach. His Falcons boys also won their conference title this year.
“We knew it would be close, and the girls came through,” Demarest said. “There were some key swims, like Bella and Kaitlyn going 1-2 in the backstroke, our medley relay (a winner by 0.01 seconds), and Brenna Risley getting second in the fly. It was great to see what they worked on in practice come through in the meet.”
Oakcrest’s Haley Crispell, Kayli Hernandez and Pagan each won two individual races. Crispell, a senior, won by a length in the 200 individual medley, and Stollenwerk took second. Crispell also won the 100 breaststroke.
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“It’s awesome to win (conference again),” said Crispell, 18, of Mays Landing. “We swam really well. We motivated ourselves in practice and in the meet.”
Hernandez dominated the 200 and 500 freestyle, and Pagan also won the 100 butterfly.
DeLusant anchored the medley relay to its close win and edged Middle’s Abby Thompson by 2 feet in the 100 freestyle.
“It feels awesome to win (the CAL National) three times,” said DeLusant, a 17-year-old senior from Mays Landing. “This time it feels different because the team is stronger and better. From the freshmen to the seniors, everyone stepped up today.”
Hernandez, Crispell, Pagan and DeLusant were the 200 medley relay winners in 1 minute, 59.74 seconds. Oakcrest also took third to go up 10-4. Middle’s Miranda Targum, Urvi Patel, Khushbu Patel and Thompson took second in a school record 1:59.75.
Middle’s Thompson out-touched Oakcrest’s Risley in the 50 freestyle. The Panthers’ other win was by 6 inches over Oakcrest in the 200 freestyle relay. Middle also took third in the race.
“They swam so well,” Middle first-year coach Dede Bosacco said of her team. “Oakcrest had more depth, and they outswam us. I told the girls that the most important thing to do in the pool is to give 100 percent, and there won’t be any regrets. They all did what they were supposed to do.”