Cutting it close

Four members of the Bethlehem girls swim team made a big splash at last weekend's state championships in Buffalo.

The 200-yard medley relay team of Becca Stern, Elise Walsh, Molly Howland and Katie O'Donnell placed third with a time of 1:50.70, less than one second off the Section II record time of 1:50.14 set by Glens Falls in 1982.

We missed it by a few tenths of a second, but we still finished third, and we were the first team from the Section to finish, said Bethlehem coach Doug Gross.

Stern was one of Section II's leading swimmers at the state meet. The senior made the finals in both of her individual events, placing fifth in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 53.03 seconds and finishing eighth in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 24.49 seconds.

"She wasn't entirely happy with her times, but I talked to all the girls beforehand about doing their best," said Gross.

Stern also anchored Bethlehem's 400-yard freestyle relay team, which placed seventh in the finals. The team of Stern, Howland, O'Donnell and Emma Walsh finished with a time of 3:40.05, more than one second faster than its preliminary time.

Howland turned in two strong individual performances at states. The sophomore reached the finals of the 200-yard freestyle with a preliminary time of 1:55.09 and finished eighth in the event with a time of 1:59.59, and she placed 12th in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:10.48.

Bethlehem's efforts helped Section II finish third in the team standings with 276 points. Section V " the state's traditional swimming powerhouse " took the title with 459 points, followed by Section IV in second place.

"The funny thing about states is it's so individual," said Gross. "When you're at Sectionals, you have about 20 girls pulling for the same thing. At states, there's maybe five girls there pulling for you."

Bethlehem's focus now shifts toward defending its first Sectional title in nearly 20 years next season. The Lady Eagles won't have Stern or the Walsh twins, Elise and Emma, who will be graduating, but Gross said younger swimmers such as O'Donnell and Howland should help Bethlehem remain among the region's top teams.

"It's been a four-year climb to get to this point, and as I told the girls, I have no desire to go back to the way things were," said Gross. ""

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