Jess Gorham was sitting on the pool deck, her legs aching, when she got an inkling something special was going on in the water. Chatham’s three breaststrokers had built up a big lead on the trio from Ocean City in the penultimate event of the NJSIAA Public B championship meet.
Gorham, a Cougars senior who had just won the backstroke, pulled herself to her feet and started cheering for her teammates. In the warm-down pool behind the blocks, senior Regan Kology heard the commotion too — and got an astounding update from teammate Shana McLaughlin.
Chatham swept the breaststroke to clinch a fourth straight Public B team title. Buoyed by the unexpected success, the Cougars toppled Ocean City, 99-71, on Sunday afternoon to cap another undefeated season with a trophy.
The Chatham seniors finished their high school career without a loss, having won four straight Morris County titles — in a string of six overall — and four Public B championships as well.
“That completely blew my mind,” Gorham said of the breaststroke. “I had absolutely no idea we had the potential to do that, and it was something I’m so proud to see. … It’s absolutely unbelievable. Walking in freshman year, I would’ve never thought I’d walk out of high school without losing a meet. It’s completely surreal.”
The Cougars (16-0), who have not lost a meet since early 2010, prepared for the state final just like they had a year earlier, singing along to “Pitch Perfect” and listening to e-mails from alumnae on the bus ride to The College of New Jersey. But they were a bit more anxious than usual before the meet, even though Ocean City had never reached the championship before.
Chatham head coach Frank DiGiacomo had done research on the Raiders, and knew their A-lane was comparable to his own. The Cougars had to rely on depth on Sunday, as they had so many times before during the unprecedented stretch.
Chatham opened with a 1-3 finish in the medley relay, as senior Maddie Dobbs gave her team a lead which only stretched as freshman Alicia Iizuka, senior Kara Miller-Radest and freshman Margaret Harrigan went through the strokes. McLaughlin won the IM, and Miller-Radest the butterfly.
“The excitement of it and the anxiety, seeing your teammates do so well in such an unexpected way fueled me,” Kology said of the opening relay. “It fueled Shana. It fueled everybody in this pool to cheer louder, go faster, get best times.”
Ocean City distance specialist Amanda Nunan (200, 500) and sprinter Noel Styer (50, 100) each won a pair of events. But McLaughlin, sophomore Jane Ewald and Harrigan went 2-3-4 behind Styer in the 100 free to keep the Cougars up by 10 points.
Gorham fulfilled a promise she’d made to DiGiacomo to try to win everything she was in, placing first in the backstroke to keep Chatham ahead by 12.
Then came the breaststroke sweep by Iizuka and freshman Emily McGovern, and senior Anna Dexheimer, which Kology called “the most shocking race of my whole life.” Behind the block before the 400 free relay, a trio of Chatham seniors — McLaughlin, Kology and Jess Gorham — paused for just a moment, telling each other to “take it all in.” They’d already shed tears, thinking about the things they were doing for the last time together on Sunday.
“I stood up on the block, when they told me to take my mark, and I told myself right away, ‘This is the last time I’ll ever be on a high school block,’ let alone here, at the state championship,” McLaughlin said. “To have won this as a senior, it’s something I never could have imagined would happen. I am so beyond ecstatic. It’s surreal.”
Medley relay: 1. Chatham (Maddie Dobbs, Alicia Iizuka, Kara Miller-Radest, Margaret Harrigan) 1:50.1; 2. Ocean City (Rachel Chain, Aleva Parker, Aly Chain, Noel Styer) 1:51.23; 3. Chatham (Stephanie Crater, Anna Dexheimer, Meggie Butler, Alyssa Hartigan) 1:54.95; 4. Chatham (Jackie Crater, Emily McGovern, Caroline Nash, Jane Ewald) 1:55.02; 5. Ocean City (Julia Hansen, Maddie Brady, Sam Horowitz, McKenna Robel) 2:08.31; 6. Ocean City (Lainie Estlow, Grace Steele, Rachael Matousch, Audrey Baker) 2:15.78.
200 freestyle: 1. Amanda Nunan (OC) 1:50.73; 2. Regan Kology (Ch) 1:52.8; 3. Gabby Breazeale (OC) 1:57.86; 4. Nina Barrett (Ch) 1:58.21; 5. Abbie Bigham (Ch) 1:59.79; 6. Erin Myers (OC) 2:02.08.
200 IM: 1. Shana McLaughlin (Ch) 2:08.35; 2. Amber Glenn (OC) 2:09.13; 3. Aly Chain (OC) 2:15.81; 4. Kara Miller-Radest (Ch) 2:16.28; 5. Aleva Parker (OC) 2:18.79; 6. Karen Iizuka (Ch) 2:20.11.
50 freestyle: 1. Noel Styer (OC) 23.77; 2. Jess Gorham (Ch) 24.33; 3. Rachel Chain (OC) 24.64; 4. Emily Gorham (Ch) 24.81; 5. Margaret Harrigan (Ch) 25.36; 6. Julie Cusack (OC) 26.34.
100 butterfly: 1. Kara Miller-Radest (Ch) 58.82; 2. Aly Chain (OC) 59.01; 3. Emily Gorham (Ch) 59.19; 4. Amy Duren (Ch) 1:00.17; 5. Gabby Breazeale (OC) 1:00.6; 6. Maddie Brady (OC) 1:13.01.
100 freestyle: 1. Noel Styer (OC) 53.48; 2. Shana McLaughlin (Ch) 53.6; 3. Jane Ewald (Ch) 55.29; 4. Margaret Harrigan (Ch) 55.62; 5. Erin Myers (OC) 56.03; 6 Sofiya Lebedeva (OC) 1:00.06.
500 freestyle: 1. Amanda Nunan (OC) 4:50.66; 2. Regan Kology (Ch) 4:55.49; 3. Amber Glenn (OC) 4:59.89; 4. Nina Barrett (Ch) 5:11.81; 5. Abbie Bigham (Ch) 5:23.45; 6. Lainie Estlow (OC) 6:02.18.
200 free relay: 1. Ocean City (Aly Chain, Gabby Breazeale, Amanda Nunan, Noel Styer) 1:38.68; 2. Chatham (Jess Gorham, Emily Gorham, Shana McLaughlin, Regan Kology) 1:39.33; 3. Chatham (Alyssa Hartigan, Caroline Paulson, Maddie Dobbs, Jane Ewald) 1:45.12; 4. Ocean City (Erin Myers, Julie Cusack, Sofiya Lebedeva, Amber Glenn) 1:45.38; 5. Chatham (Caroline Nash, Charlotte Morrissey, Karen Iizuka, Amy Duren) 1:46.56; 6. Ocean City (Adina Ahlstrom, Mikala, Gillespie, Audrey Baker, Rachael Matousch) 1:57.
100 backstroke: 1. Jess Gorham (Ch) 59.4; 2. Rachel Chain (OC) 59.71; 3. Jackie Crater (C) 1:03.04; 4. Meggie Butler (Ch) 1:03.06; 5. Julie Cusack (OC) 1:09.7; 6. Julia Hansen (OC) 1:11.05.
100 breaststroke: 1. Alicia Iizuka (Ch) 1:04.9; 2. Emily McGovern (Ch) 1:09.92; 3. Anna Dexheimer (Ch) 1:09.98; 4. Aleva Parker (OC) 1:11.67; 5. Maddie Brady (OC) 1:16.99; 2. Sofiya Lebedeva (OC) 1:17.85.
400 free relay: 1. Shana McLaughlin, Emily Gorham, Regan Kology, Jess Gorham) 3:40.42; 2. Ocean City (Rachel Chain, Gabby Breazeale, Erin Myers, Amanda Nunan) 3:41.76; 3. Chatham (Amy Duren, Kara Miller-Radest, Margaret Harrigan, Jane Ewald) 3:50.6; 4. Chatham (Alyssa Hartigan, Meggie Butler, Caroline Nash, Charlotte Morrissey) 3:54.19; 5. Ocean City (Julie Cusack, Aleva Parker, Sofiya Lebedeva, Amber Glenn) 4:05.18; 6. Ocean City (McKenna Robel, Lainie Estlow, Julia Hansen, Sam Horowitz) 4:49.93.
Site of meet: The College of New Jersey. Distances in yards.
Team records: Chatham 16-0, Ocean City 14-1.