MORRISTOWN _ The history lesson in the midst of the Morristown High School Girls Swim Team's pasta party on Friday night served two purposes - to enlighten and inspire.
Colonials coach Donna Gelegonya had her swimmers' rapt attention, telling them of Morris County championships past. The last title Morristown won was in 2009 and was rapidly fading into the distance. The one before that was in 1999 before members of the current squad were born.
Gelegonya is a steadfast believer in the "power of threes" and Morristown, obviously charged up, delivered, tying Chatham for a share of the 2019 crown on Saturday, Jan. 26. The Colonials, thrilled about their first title in 20 years, and the Cougars, who stretched their championship run to 11 with the deadlock, each scored 234 points in a meet that came down to the final event, the 400 freestyle relay.
"I absolutely believe in the power of threes," said an elated Gelegonya, wet from a celebratory leap into the pool, shortly after the meet ended in dramatic style. "Three times... Ten years apart... This is unbelievable. I'm excited and so proud of our kids. Chatham is a great team. Very talented. We really had to turn up the volume."
It all came down to the closing relay. Morristown was in a must-win situation and received sensational performances from Nicole Barkemeyer, Elyse Genrich, Molly Webber and Annalise Webber, who turned in a time of 3:57.97. Molly Webber, a freshman and the Colonials' third leg in the 400 freestyle relay, was key in the Colonials finishing first as she came from behind and made a powerful turn to take a half-body-length lead.
"I went over and talked to them before the last event and emphasized that we needed to win to tie it," Gelegonya said. "They had the opportunity to be legendary. We had to hang on."
Molly Webber's "rally" was not surprising nor was the outcome. Samantha Smith, one of six Morristown seniors, knew of Webber's abilities. She also felt the Colonials were more than capable of coming through.
"Watching Molly come from behind was incredible," Smith said. "From freshmen to seniors, top to bottom, the talent is there. I think for awhile our energy went down and we were nervous. Our spirits went up again and I figured we had a chance of winning. Coach Gelegonya told us about everything on Friday night at the pasta party. I had a feeling it would motivate us."
The history lesson made a significant impact. Gelegonya filled the girls in on the 1999 Morris Championships when the Colonials girls went from third to co-champs with Mountain Lakes because of a scoring error. It was originally thought that Chatham was atop the standings. However, three days later, the miscue was discovered and changes were made.
In 2009, the Morristown boys took top honors along with Mountain Lakes. Again, there was a scoring issue. It was corrected and Morristown was deemed outright champion.
"Everybody counts. Every point counts," Gelegonya said. "Every place counts. Every person counts. Even if you're 12th, you're important."
Junior Grace Miller had a big day, taking gold in two individual events, the 200 and 400 freestyle, and swam on the victorious 200 freestyle and medley relays. Miller set a county record in the 200 freestyle, swimming a 2:03.06 to eclipse the mark set by Reagan Kology of Chatham in 2014.
"This day has been awesome," Miller said. "We wanted to win so badly. We knew we could but it would be very close. It was hard watching at the end but everyone did amazing. I was very hopeful for today. I felt we'd do great things."
Annalise Webber (50-meter freestyle) and Barkemeyer (100-meter backstroke) also had first-place finishes for Morristown.
Chatham coach Frank DiGiacomo didn't seem to mind at all that the Colonials claimed a piece of the title.
"This is awesome," DiGiacomo said. "I honestly love this. It should be like this. Both teams are good, talented, exceptionally fast. We want each other to be successful and push one another. For our team to be successful for this long is a testament to the community which supports us. It's the parents who do what they do. It's not just the coach and swimmers. I'm glad to be a little glimmer in all of it."
Victoria Eisenhauer, a Montville junior, became a three-time winner in two events, taking the 100-meter breaststroke and 200 IM. In both races, she broke her own records.
"I'm happy with how I did," Eisenhauer said. "I got the records and I'll continue to get faster. I feel like the key was going out fast and keeping the pace. I didn't feel any pressure. I try to have fun with it and enjoy being here with my team."
Eisenhauer's father, Gary, will add the medals to the room devoted to the athletic achievements of Victoria and her younger sister, Nicole. In addition to medals, the room features photos from the YMCA Nationals and softball trophies. Nicole, a freshman, doesn't swim for the Mustangs team but competes for the Somerset Valley YMCA club team.
Roxbury's Autumn-Brook Tucker prevailed in butterfly for the second consecutive year. Tucker, a junior, went into the race and "tried not to think about" what she did last year.
"I wanted to have fun and be loose," she said. "I thought of this as a team event."
Tucker's mother, Amber-Sky, got a closeup view of her daughter's win while serving as a timer in an adjoining lane.
"It was great to have my mom there," the younger Tucker said. "She was happy."
Tucker wore a five-year-old traditional pink, black and gray Nike suit, a birthday gift, for a bit of luck. Her teammates jokingly urged her to "Beat tech," referring to the tech suits preferred by some swimmers.
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