MORRISTOWN _ Mendham swim coach Karen McCourt did her best to resist. A pole and McCourt's tight grip weren't enough to keep the Minutemen from their final goal.
McCourt succeeded in holding on - for awhile - then, with lots of help from her swimmers, she hit the water.
The good-natured McCourt didn't mind. Just like their North Jersey 2, Division B meet against Millburn on Monday, Feb. 13, the Minutemen didn't let their coach get away.
The sectional semifinal came down to the 400 freestyle relay and second-seeded Mendham took first in the last event, clocking a 4:06.17, and defeated the third-seeded Millers, 97-93.
"It was just crazy," Mendham co-captain Zoe Cembrinski said of the decisive relay. "My stomach was turning. Everyone was screaming and cheering each other on."
Going into the 400 freestyle relay, the Minutemen, who will face Kinnelon for the sectional title, needed a first-place finish to triumph. To come out on top, Millburn had to take first and third.
Isabelle Cecere, Sara Cecere, Maya Scheidl and Celia Frick comprised the 400 freestyle relay team.
"Our girls are so phenomenal. I knew we had it," McCourt said. "Anything you need them to do, they pull it out. Whether it's sports, their personalities or school, they go all out.
"This is phenomenal. Words can't express what these swimmers did today. Each and every one contributed."
Some of them had a pair of first-place finishes like Scheidl, who claimed the 100-meter freestyle (59.44) and 100-meter backstroke (1:07.99), and Isabelle Cecere, who prevailed in the 200-meter freestyle (2:07.22) and 100-meter butterfly (1:05.81). In addition, Frick was first in the 200 individual medley (2:25.17) and the 100-meter breaststroke (1:15.18).
Right from the start, Mendham, 11-1 in regular season dual meets and 13-1 overall, took charge, garnering gold in the 200 medley relay (Scheidl, Olivia Rogus, Isabelle Cecere Frick) in 2:07.31.
Cembrinski was thrilled with the outcome considering Mendham is only a third-year team.
"We're really excited because we haven't done this before," Cembrinski said. "It's a huge accomplishment because we're such a new team. We're proving to our school that we can compete, just like the rest of the teams.
"The captains who came before us fought hard to get the program started. We had high expectations. I'm still a little suprised with how far we've come."
McCourt commended Rogus and Sara Cecere, both freshmen, for their outstanding efforts this season. She also praised the Colicchio sisters, Kim and Jennifer, for being consistent performers.
The Minutemen spent last week doing a lot of training and team building to get ready for the state meets. There were inspirational speeches and a boot camp.
On Friday, Feb. 17, Mendham and Kinnelon will vie for top honors in the section.
"Kinnelon's been around awhile and is very good," Cembrinski said. "We should do well. By beating Millburn, I think we've shown what we can do. We should be a good match for Millburn."
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