LAKEVILLE — Northwestern High School won its seventh straight Berkshire League Swimming and Diving Championships Sunday afternoon at The Hotchkiss School, but it was far from the usual Highlander tidal wave.
Litchfield had Northwestern in its sights for much of the meet, starting with a win in the opening 200-yard medley relay that built to a 15-point lead after four events.
“It was a tight meet,” Northwestern coach Mary DiMauro said. “Litchfield is deep and talented.”
Northwestern’s divers put the Highlanders back on top, but a Cowboy win in the 500-yard freestyle helped pull Litchfield back to a tie before the 200-yard freestyle relay.
“We have great seniors who’ve been working on it for four years, along with good underclassmen,” said Litchfield coach Travis Morse. “Now we’re going to have to show up in the relays.”
That’s where Northwestern’s depth still reigned supreme. The Highlanders won both the 200 and 400 relays, along with a one-two finish in the breaststroke to pull away to a final 672-635 spread over the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, Shepaug, Wamogo and Nonnewaug were in a three-way dogfight for third place several hundred points down from the leaders.
“We just don’t have enough kids anymore to keep up with the bigger schools,” said Shepaug senior Jack Pesce, winner of the 200 IM and 100-yard backstroke, recalling the days when Shepaug’s pool gave the Spartans the same kind of league advantage Northwestern now enjoys with its numbers.
Despite such league dynasties, Wamogo and Nonnewaug showed new life is on the upswing. The Chiefs are in just their second year as a program. Wamogo might have had an historic team win over Shepaug if not for a disqualification in the final race.
“We’ve got a great young squad,” veteran Warrior coach Bill Houle said. “We have 31 members and 21 of them are freshmen and sophomores. They’re all believers.”
Still, Northwestern’s team and its stars remain the league’s gold standard.
Sophomore Alex Beauchene and junior Cassidy Stotler demonstrated the Highlanders’ staying power as the meet’s male and female High Point Scorers.
Beachene won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races, lopping a second-and-a-half off the league record in the 100 (:47.17) before anchoring Northwestern’s winning relay teams.
Stotler joined her twin sister Kelly in taking girls firsts in two individual events apiece and helping the Highlander girls 200 medley relay team improve its own league record from last year. Cassidy did the same thing, improving her own girls league record, in the 100-yard butterfly.
“Litchfield is really good, but I think the competition brings our team together,” Cassidy said.
“Litchfield’s worked very hard, but it would still be nice to win again,” Kelly said.
Sophomore Beauchene and Northwestern’s freshman diving champion John Courtemanche are examples of what the rest of the league is up against in a steady stream of new Highlander stars.
In his first year of competitive diving, Courtemanche smashed the league diving record with 422.70 points.
“I almost failed one of my dives (in Friday’s competition at Shepaug),” Courtemanche said. “Even so, my total would have been second or third in states last year. I learned to do flips on my trampoline at home.”
If Northwestern produces a daunting steady stream of new talent, Litchfield junior Dan O’Leary, winner of the 200 and 500-yard freestyle races, shows the kind of flexibility that multiplies individual talent in a single person.
“I just swim in whatever event my coach tells me to, from the 50 to the 500,” said O’Leary, whose stroke-for-stroke win against Northwestern’s Ashton Morrell in the 500 tied the score mid-meet.
The Highlanders are still champions, but Litchfield and the other teams down the line made it an exciting win.
“We showed them they’re not untouchable,” Litchfield coach Morse said.