Marblehead comes through

Members of the Marblehead girls’ swimming team celebrate their Division 2 championship, dethroning five-time defending champion Wayland. Members of the Marblehead girls’ swimming team celebrate their Division 2 championship, dethroning five-time defending champion Wayland. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Sarina Mathai
Globe Correspondent / February 21, 2011

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A mere half-point separated defending champion Wayland and Marblehead heading into the 400-yard freestyle relay, the final event of the Division 2 state swimming championship yesterday at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.

As Megan Alexander made the last turn in the final leg of the relay, she felt an all-too-familiar foe: a sharp pang of soreness and tightness in her legs. Neck-and-neck with Wayland’s Michelle Cunningham, she knew there was only one way to alleviate the pain — by winning.

Alexander distanced herself from Cunningham, and Marblehead won the relay (3:32.82 to 3:33.87) en route to its first state title. The Magicians ended the day with 229 points, just 5.5 ahead of Wayland, which had won the previous five titles.

“I was freaking out, actually,’’ Alexander said. “I got really tight and really sore, and I thought this was going to be bad. I just told myself, ‘I want this more than [Wayland].’ We never won a state championship and they win every year so I just put my head down and raced.’’

Alexander was also a member of the winning 200-yard medley relay team (1:49.82) and won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:58.75.

There was extra motivation for the team to win this year, knowing its coach, Susan Guertin, had been at Marblehead 24 years without having won a title.

“We told her at the [Northeastern] Conference finals when Beverly beat us that we would get her this title,’’ said Toireasa Rafferty-Millett, a member of the 400-yard freestyle relay team.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ Guertin said. “I only had seven girls out there. [Wayland] had three or four girls in nearly every event, and at most, I had two. The kids just stuck in there and kept on scoring.’’

The Magicians were encouraged by their second-place finish at the North Sectionals last weekend, where they finished only 5 points behind the Lady Warriors. Guertin made a critical change from last weekend, moving one of her swimmers from the butterfly to the backstroke.

The 22 points amassed by Ryan Alexander, Megan’s sister, and Sarah Daher in the 100-yard backstroke pushed Marblehead ahead of Wayland heading into the 100-yard breaststroke.

“The turning point for us was the breaststroke,’’ said Alexander. “We knew that if we got first, second, or third, the relay would decide [the champion] no matter what. It was like that last weekend, but we had too much of a deficit to overcome then.’’

Unlike last weekend, Wayland did win an event — the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:38.69) — but it wasn’t enough. Marblehead may not have had the depth, but its swimmers placed very high.

In the 200-yard freestyle, Ryan Alexander (1:53.69) and Rafferty-Millett (1:54.80) placed second and third, and Megan Alexander (2:06.11) and Katherine Foley (2:10.19) did the same in the 200-yard individual medley.