By Frank Foreman
Maggie Murphree made the most of her final swim meet of the year.
Murphree, leaving the team and Meadville for six months to head overseas with her family, plans to return for her senior season. Hopefully, the Lady Bulldogs pick up right where they left off Thursday night.
In a nail-biter that came down to the final two races, the Meadville girls swim team picked up an 86-82 home win over Mercyhurst Prep at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex’s George J. Barco Aquatic Center.
The Meadville boys weren’t as fortunate, falling to the Lakers 107-63.
With the scoreboard failing to show the team scores throughout the first half of the meet, a close matchup lit up near the end of the, showing the Meadville girls narrowly trailing Prep. A win by Mackenzie Webber in the 100 backstroke evened the score at 69 as Murphree approached the pool for the 100 breaststroke.
Murphree rose to the occasion.
The junior used the added motivation to win the race with a time of 1:13.46, ahead of Mercyhurst Prep’s Lauren Euliano, who clocked in at 1:14.08. That win put Meadville on top, where the girls would stay as the 400 freestyle relay team of Webber, Heather Sternby, Paige Whitney and Maddie Moreland took the top spot with a time of 4:01.90.
Murphree was the spark.
“I didn’t know going into my race that we were tied,” Murphree said. “I knew it was neck-and-neck the whole meet. I usually swim for personal bests, but I guess it does make me try to do better when it’s that close.”
Murphree’s performance came as no surprise to Meadville head coach Pete Coppelli.
“That was a critical race,” Coppelli said of Murphree’s win in the 100 breaststroke. “She was pushed very hard by Euliano. Maggie is a competitor. She knew it was on the line, and she thrives in those situations. She had a little something extra.”
Murphree said she was thrilled that her team was able to win on her final meet, and added that it was the perfect way to end her season.
“This was my last meet,” Murphree said. “My dad is a professor at Allegheny College, and he is taking a six-month sabbatical. He is taking my mother and me with him, but I’ll still be swimming.”
The Lady Bulldogs lost to Prep earlier this season 92-61, but have progressed as a team since then, proving it Thursday night.
The 200 medley relay team of Webber, Murphree, Alyssha Kelyman and Sternby got the meet started on the right foot for Meadville, winning the race with a time of 2:02.88. Sternby followed with a win in the 200 freestyle in 2:12.21, and Kelyman won the 200 individual medley in 2:32.21, giving the Lady Bulldogs a nice start.
Webber, who had a strong night in the pool, won another event in the 50 freestyle, edging teammate Whitney with a time of 25.64. Whitney followed with a time of 28.71.
The string of victories came to a halt as Mercyhurst Prep won the 100 butterfly, 100 freesytle, 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay to retake the lead before Webber’s win in the 100 backstroke.
“I’m not positive that the girls realized it was that close,” Coppelli said. “Coming into the last race, some of the girls were a little nervous. I told them to look at the score and have fun.”
The Meadville girls not only avenged the early-season loss to Prep, but won their first meet of the year in the process, improving to 1-4 on the season. Mercyhurst prep fell to 4-4.
“They were excited. We haven’t had any meets like this all year,” Coppelli said. “It’s nice to have one like that, so now they will be looking for that in the future. This is a good way to make them aware of the possibilities.”
On the boys’ side, first-place finishes were much harder to come by, as the Lakers swept every race during the 54-point victory.
Meadville’s Kerwin Moreland was just off the pace of Prep’s Michael Geary in the 200 freestyle, as Geary clocked in with a time of 1:55.74 to win the event. Moreland finished in 1:56.11. Moreland also took second in the 100 butterfly in a time of 1:01.68.
The tightest race of the nice came in the boys 100 breaststroke, as the Lakers’ Matt Benczkowski (1:09.75) narrowly defeated Meadville’s Eric Ziegler (1:09.98). Ziegler and Moreland, along with Nick Sternby and Matt Lazusky teamed up to place second in the 400 freestyle relay, finishing in 3:53.41. Mercyhurst Prep took the race in 3:42.51.
The Bulldogs fell to 0-5 on the season, while Mercyhurst Prep improved to 6-2.