Swim/dive meets don’t get any closer than the October 22 battle between conference favorite West Ottawa and the formidable Rockford Rams.
To set the stage, both teams are packed with depth and speed. It’s the final home meet for the Lady Rams, complete with Senior Night ceremonies, the Rockford High School chamber singers serving up an A+ rendering of the “National Anthem,” and then the deafening roar of the crowd. On paper, the Rams are the underdogs. What remains to be seen is what happens in the water.
The meet begins with Rockford taking second and third in the 200 medley relay. Things are looking good for the Lady Rams, with Casey Wolfer, Morgan Lipe, Erica Cutler and Taylor Hutson going a quick 1:55.44, followed by teammates Morgan Longberg, Rachael Romain, Taylor Downs and Kennedy Cutler with a 1:58.25. Race one was victory for the Rams.
West Ottawa was not daunted, and came back with first-, second- and fourth-place finishes in the 200-yard free. Sarah Smith (2:01.94) took third just .08 behind second place, and her twin Alaina Smith took fifth with 2:04.26. Lexy Caster and Holly Nauta went sixth and seventh respectively. The score advantage went to West Ottawa.
In the third event, the Rams went first, fourth and sixth (Jessica Cutler, Romain, Lipe), with a neck-and-neck finish for third and fourth place. West Ottawa was beginning to gain momentum, and the first half of the meet, as Head Coach Tom Parks remarked afterward, “was not how we had hoped. We stumbled a bit—we had some illness, but so did they.”
The 50 freestyle—the last race before diving—is always quick and always a nail biter. Sophomore Wolfer swam tough with a fast 25.62, just getting tapped out for first by West Ottawa’s Amanda Teske. The Rams’ Jamie VanPortfliet and Lauren Girard took fourth and fifth.
The Rams’ divers literally put the bounce back in the swimmers for the second half of the meet, going second, third, fourth and fifth, with Erica Finlayson (202.50), Katie DeHaan (180.20), Macie DeGraaf (165.80) and Rita Synder (153.10) all scoring.
For those in the crowd keeping a running score, the divers put the Rams back in the meet, and there was plenty of swimming to go.
The sixth event, the 100 yard butterfly, was dominated by the Rams, with E. Cutler, S. Smith, Adrianna Craft, and Downs placing first, second, fourth and fifth.
West Ottawa flexed their muscles with the 100-yard free, leaving the Rams with second, fifth and sixth places (A. Smith, Longberg and Girard).
Both teams are known for their distance swimming prowess, and watching stroke-for-stroke swimmers for 20 laps is never easy, let alone in a meet this close. The Rams took first, third and sixth, with J. Cutler (5:19.98), Caster (5:32.67) and Nauta (5.41.95) scoring for the Rams.
A second/third finish in the 200-yard freestyle gave the Rams the point advantage for the ninth event, with VanPortfliet, E. Cutler, Girard and J. Cutler (1:43.58), and Hutson, S. Smith, Caster and A. Smith (1:46.13) scoring respectively.
At this point in the meet, there was no definite leader—the score was within a couple of points, and every finish first through sixth counted. Rockford’s backstrokers stepped up to the challenge, placing second, fourth, fifth and sixth, with Wolfer, Longberg, Cutler and Downs all scoring.
With two races the go, the Rams pulled the score to within one point when they finished second, fourth and fifth in the 100 breaststroke (Romain, E. Cutler and Lipe).
At this point, the meet—and the claim to first place in the conference—came down to the final race, the 400 free relay. Coach Parks had worked his magic on the lineup—now the girls just needed to finish strong with a first/third or second/third finish. Unfortunately, Rockford’s A relay was tapped out by .05 seconds for the third-place finish, leaving the victory to West Ottawa, 161-154.
After the West Ottawa cheering finally died off, Coach Parks congratulated his team and reminded them that they can still claim co-title to the conference by beating West Ottawa at the Nov. 5-7 conference meet at West Ottawa.
“The dual meet format favors West Ottawa to a degree,” Parks said after the meet, “so we still have a shot at it. All our girls need to step up to do it, but we can.” Certainly, that will be the Lady Rams’ focus as they rest, get healthy and taper for the conference showdown.
Special congratulations go to the Rams’ seniors, who Parks described in the Senior Night ceremonies as an amazing group of young women, who excel beyond the pool in academics, community service, and many other aspects of their lives. “These girls are true role models for our team, and they have set a standard of leadership that will prevail for years to come,” said Parks. The seniors are co-captains Erica Cutler, Jessica Cutler, Ashley Gremel, and Taylor Hutson, along with Amanda Johnson, Holly Nauta, Erika Schnelle, Rita Snyder, Audrey Tinkham, Christina Weston and Alli Wilburn.