Eagles claim MIAA A swim crown; D. Nguyen and Zuga capture two first-place medals (VIDEO HERE!!)

by Nelson Coffin
Although veteran coach Keith Schertle did not guide the juggernaut swimming program at Loyola Blakefield for the past two seasons, the Dons still secured a pair of MIAA A Conference crowns while he temporarily retired.
Schertle, who guided Loyola to 18 consecutive titles before falling to McDonogh School in 2012, was back at the helm Saturday evening at the conference championship meet where he did his best to claim the Dons’ 21st title in the last 22 years.
The way that the Eagles swam, however, made sure that Schertle’s return would not be at their expense by pulling out a 480-474 victory in their home pool at the Rosenburg Aquatic Center in Owings Mills.
Calvert Hall College (293 points) was third, followed by Mount St. Joseph (227), Gilman School (187) and Archbishop Spalding (140).
Considering that after the first six of the meet’s 11 events the two conference leaders were in a dead heat with 258 points each, well ahead of Calvert Hall’s 175, the outcome was in doubt until things eventually turned McDonogh’s way.
The Eagles spurted to an early lead by taking the 200-yard medley relay in 1 minute, 34.24 seconds with Colin Bitz, Derek Nguyen, Justin Nguyen and Ben Merz edging Loyola’s Daniel Bednarski, Gabe Moreno, Ben Shropshire and Zach Reid by more than two seconds.
Calvert Hall’s Jason Fitch, Andrew Merriman, Josh Walker and Sam Garthright were next in line.
In the 200 freestyle, McDonogh senior Alexander Zuga prevailed in 1:41.06 over Reid (1:43.15) and his Loyola teammate Matt Clark (1:43.31) to give the Eagles two strong early performances.
Calvert Hall senior Josh Walker had another stellar swim in the 200 individual medley (1:51.54) by bettering his winning time (1:52.15) in last year’s final while topping McDonogh’s Derek Nguyen (1:52.66) and Gilman’s Max Verheyen (1:54.34).
McDonogh made it three out of four events when it captured the 50 free on the strength of senior Ben Selnick (21.31) touching the wall ahead of Garthright (21.75) and Merz (21.81).
Loyola began its rally in the 100 butterfly with Shropshire (49.07) taking down Mount St. Joe’s Mac Hoskins (50.71) and Walker (50.77) in a close one.
The Dons continued on their roll when junior Will Pelton (46.45) took the 100 free over Selznick (47.06) and Bitz (47.81).
McDonogh bounced back in the 500 free because Zuga (4:35.63) outlasted Clark (4:37.19) and Eagle teammate Zach Smith (4:37.40) in the grueling event before Loyola’s 200 free relay — Pelton, Linder, Shropshire and Clark (1:25.31) — topped McDonogh’s Merz, Derek Nguyen, Selnick and Zuga (1:25.36) and Calvert Hall’s Terence Maxwell, Garthright, Merriman and Walker (1:27.23) in another competitive battle.
However, when Bitz (50.01) snagged the 100 backstroke over Pelton (50.73) and Merz (52.59), the outcome was still hanging in the balance.
Bitz, just a freshman, made his mark with the win and lifted the Eagles’ hopes as they were well within striking distance, only trailing, 401-397 at that critical juncture.
A long delay after a controversial false start in the 100 breaststroke that was eventually raced a second time went to Derek Nguyen (56.45), whose triumph Spalding’s David Sears (58.88) and Isayiw (59.27) boosted the Eagles to an envious position.
Nguyen, who was fast in the disputed first breaststroke, went even faster in the second one that counted, recording school records each time.
“Coach told me to warm down (after the disputed race),” said Nguyen, who plans to swim for Navy next year. “I guess I was pretty angry. But it was the last race of my high school career, and I had nothing to lose.”
With the Eagles on the verge of a win, all they needed was a good showing in the 400 free relay to knock off the Dons.
“At that point, it was all about just not getting disqualified,” said Patrick Heard, a co-captain with fellow senior Jack Donahue. “We were ahead, and we did it.”
Although Loyola did take the 400 free relay with Reid, Clark, Lindner and Pelton (3:07.79) beating Selnick, Zach Smith, Bitz and Zuga (3:13.80) and Gilman’s Zhang, Hedgecock, Neddy Wight and Verheyen (3:20.63), the Eagles secured their second title since 1939.
Despite neither captain being available to compete, they both cheered on their teammates from the pool deck.
“We wanted to be here more than anything,” Donahue said. “Everybody did their job, all the way down to the JV. Every point counted.”
Schertle, who said that they “dusted the old guy off and brought him back for one more season,” was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We didn’t lose — McDonogh won,” he said, noting that the six-point differential between the teams was one of the closest he could remember. “We swam well and they swam well. If we didn’t swim 100 percent best times, it was pretty darn close. We had some swimmers who cut two seconds off their best times and still lost by .08 of a second. There’s not much you can do about that.”
Team scores:
200-yard medley relay:
1.) MCDONOGH (Colin Bitz, Derek Nguyen, Justin Nguyen, Ben Merz), 1:34.24
2.) LOYOLA (Daniel Bednarski, Gabe Moreno, Ben Shropshire, Zach Reid), 1:36.74
3.) CALVERT HALL (Jason Fitch, Andrew Merriman, Josh Walker, Sam Garthright), 1:37.41
4.) MOUNT ST. JOSEPH (Connor Moran, Luke Isayiw, Mac Hoskins, Lorenzo Gurri), 1:38.43
5.) GILMAN (Max Verheyen, Nathan Hedgecock, Phillip Morgan, Wade Perry), 1:41.01
6.) SPALDING (Jack Humphrey, Sam DeVito, Davis Sears, Avery Villareal), 1:41.83
200-yard freestyle:
1.) Alexander Zuga (MCDONOGH, 1:41.06)
2.) Reid (LOYOLA, 1:43.15)
3.) Matt Clark (LOYOLA, 1:43.31)
4.) Zach Smith (MCDONOGH, 1:43.96)
5.) Brendan Lee (CALVERT HALL, 1:46.96)
200-yard IM:
1.) Walker (CALVERT HALL, 1:51.54)
2.) D. Nguyen (MCDONOGH, 1:52.66)
3.) Verheyen (GILMAN, 1:54.34)
4.) Bednarski (LOYOLA, 1:55.70)
5.) Hoskins (MOUNT ST. JOSEPH, 2:57.75)
50-yard freestyle:
1.) Ben Selnick (MCDONOGH, 21.31)
2.) Garthright (CALVERT HALL, 21.75)
3.) Merz (MCDONOGH, 21.81)
4.) Shropshire (LOYOLA, 21.82)
5.) Graham Linder (LOYOLA, 22.04)
100-yard butterfly:
1.) Shropshire (LOYOLA, 49.07)
2.) Hoskins (MOUNT ST. JOSEPH, 50.71)
3.) Walker (CALVERTHALL, 50.77)
4.) Ryan Atwood (MCDONOGH, 51.97)
5.) J. Nguyen (MCDONOGH, 53.19)
100-yard freestyle:
1.) Will Pelton (LOYOLA, 46.45)
2.) Selnick (MCDONOGH, 47.06)
3.) Bitz (MCDONOGH, 47.81)
4.) Merriman (CALVERT HALL, 48.51)
5.) Garthright (CALVERT HALL, 48.90)
500-yard freestyle:
1.) Zuga (MCDONOGH, 4:35.63)
2.) Clark (LOYOLA, 4:37.19)
3.) Smith (MCDONOGH, 4:37.40)
4.) Reid (LOYOLA, 4:41.00)
5.) Verheyen (GILMAN, 4:45.84)
200-yard freestyle relay:
1.) LOYOLA (Pelton, Linder, Shropshire, Clark), 1:25.31
2.) MCDONOGH (Merz, D. Nguyen, Selnick, Zuga), 1:25.36
3.) CALVERT HALL (Terence Maxwell, Garthright,, Merriman, Walker), 1:27.23
4.) MOUNT ST. JOSEPH (Isayiw, Frank Spitza, Gurri, Hoskins), 1:29.69
5.) GILMAN (Eric Zhang, Hedgecock, Bodie Breza, Perry), 1:32.64
100-yard backstroke:
1.) Bitz (MCDONOGH, 50.01)
2.) Pelton (LOYOLA, 50.73)
3.) Merz (MCDONOGH, 52:59)
4.) Bednarski (LOYOLA, 53.49)
5.) Jason Fitch (CALVERT HALL, 54.05)
100-yard breaststroke:
1.) D. Nguyen (MCDONOGH, 56.45)
2.) David Sears (SPALDING, 58.88)
3.) Isayiw (MOUNT ST. JOSEPH, 59.27)
4.) Nate Sukeena (MCDONOGH, 1:00.20)
5.) Gabe Moreno (LOYOLA, 1:00.42)
400-yard freestyle relay:
1.) LOYOLA (Reid, Clark, Lindner, Erin Pelton), 3:07.79
2.) MCDONOGH (Selnick, Z. Smith, Bitz, Zuga), 3:13.80
3.) GILMAN (Zhang, Hedgecock, Neddy Wight, Verheyen), 3:20.63
4.) SPALDING (DeVito, Jack Humphrey, Jones, Sears), 3:22.88
5.) MOUNT ST. JOSEPH (Adam Stein, John Tis, Spitza, Conor Moran), 3:26.63