By Bob York
Over the past five years, the Big Green has spent an awful lot of time at the New England Swimming and Diving Championships kicking water in opponents’ faces. It’s nothing personal mind you, just this sport’s trickle-down effect that finds the slower swimmers getting caught up in the wakes of the faster ones.
The storied annals of Big Green swimming give credence to the fact that the boys of Deerfield would rather give than receive when it comes to getting doused in spray. When it’s time to move on to the awards ceremonies, however, history shows the Big Green would rather receive than give – and this winter’s edition of the New England meet was no different. The Deerfield clan once again found itself drip-drying on the podium as it took away a silver medal from the proceedings. Andover won the gold with 417 points, while Deerfield was second with 360 points, while Exeter placed third with 313.5 points.
It marked the fifth straight meet that the Deerfield boys team has provided something to put in its trophy case to prove “we were there!” The Big Green won New England titles back in 2008 and 2009, placed second in 2010, was third last year, and now has another silver medal to show off. All this has been good for the program, but has caused John Burke, its coach, a bit of consternation.
“I’m running out of adjectives to describe these kids, what they do and how they do it,” quipped the Big Green mentor, “ but we had an outstanding regular season in which we went 7-1, losing only to Andover … and only by seven points (96-89). We finished first at the Easterns and then topped it all off with an outstanding effort at the New England meet.”
One of his charges whom Burke ran out of adjectives for about two years ago, is diver Taylor Clough (13). Ever since he slipped on a green Speedo, he’s been the chairman of the board at Deerfield and every other pool hall throughout New England. Clough highlighted this year’s meet by capturing his third straight gold medal on the one-meter board. And he did so in convincing fashion. Clough finished his 11-dive routine with 547.20 points, while the silver medalist wound up more than 90 points south of that figure with 457.00.
“I was still a little nervous heading into the finals,” admitted Clough. “I had a 30 point lead but in diving, that’s not all that much, especially if you happen to have a bad dive or two.”
But he wouldn’t have any bad dives on this day, in fact, “I nailed my last three dives,” all with a degree of difficulty of 3.0, and the crown was his.
“Taylor’s an unbelievable competitor and an extremely hard worker and those are the reasons why he’s been so successful in this sport,” said Burke. “Back in his freshman year, he told me about a diving list that he had come up with that he was going to follow through his senior year and from the looks of things, he seems to be following it without any problems. It’s all based on a certain dive’s degree of difficulty, the more difficult the dive, the more points you score … if you perform it correctly. And he certainly has.”
“I have about six dives written on a piece of paper,” said Clough of his hit list. “I mastered three of them during this past year and will now begin working on the last three for next year’s New England meet.”
And there’s good reason why Clough is beginning his homework early. He’s hoping to tie one New England record next year – when Deerfield plays host to the championships – and break another. The mark he’s hoping to tie is Grant Gritzmacher’s four straight New England prep school diving championships, which the current Westminster School swim achieved during his school days Hopkins School from 1993 to 1996.
Unless Clough applies for a postgraduate year, he can’t break that one, but he has an eye on Gritzmacher’s record of 584.55 points during an 11-dive meet. As a sophomore, Clough won with 468.85 points, while this year, he upped that total to 547.20. Another 80-point improvement, thanks to those 3.0 degree of difficulty dives he’s been working on, will more than do the trick.
Two other Deerfield divers earned top-10 finishes as well, as Wyatt Sharpe (13) wound up seventh with a score of 360.50, while Kellam Witherington (12) was ninth with 351.00 points.
Moving on from the diving well to the swimming pool, Quinn Smith (14) had a big day for the Big Green, finishing first in the 100-breast stroke (59.43), second in the 200-individual medley and combined with Austin Bridges (12), Henry Lee (12) and Oscar Maio (13) to win the 200-medley relay in 1:33.92, which was good enough to earn All-American status.
“I felt pretty confident going into the breaststroke,” said Smith, who was seeded third in the event. “ Over the past year, I’d been able to trim six seconds off my time in that event and that’s a lot of time to knock off the clock in a year. So, like I said, I felt pretty comfortable going in and everything went just as I had hoped during the race.
Two other silver medalists on the day proved to be Matt Hrabchak (15) in the 500-freestyle in a time of 4:34.16. Bridges was second in the 100-breast stroke in 59.80, while Ben Wood (13) placed fourth.
Miao also finished the day with a trio of bronze medals dangling from around his neck, as he finished third in the 50- and 100-freestyle events in 20.99 and 46.21 respectively. He then combined with Jack Vallar (12), Bridges and Hrabchak to wind up third in the 400-freestyle relay, as their time of 3:07.5 set a new school record in the event. Bridges grabbed a bronze medal in the 200-medley at 1:54.46, while Hrabchak placed third and Vallar fourth in the 200-freestyle.
This year’s Noel Stace Award went to Kevin O’Sullivan, while the John Pigeon Award was won by this year’s tri-captains: Bridges, Lee and Vallar. Next year’s co-captains will be Maio and Ben Wood.