Beth Tfiloh edges St. Mary’s in final event to secure its first-ever B Conference swimming title

by Nelson Coffin

When he joined the Beth Tfiloh swimming team as a freshman, the Warriors’ program rated little more than a “meh,” according to Matan Tusk.

The versatile senior captain and his teammates turned that one-word description on its head Wednesday night by squeezing past St. Mary’s in the final event of the MIAA B Conference championship meet at McDonogh School to secure BT’s first-ever title after an unprecedented 6-0 dual-meet season.

With that final win, the Warriors (246 points) edged St. Mary’s (241) and Severn (217) for the crown.

Archbishop Curley (146), Key School (143), St. Vincent Pallotti (91), Saints Peter and Paul (64), Annapolis Area Christian School (60) and John Carroll (23) followed the leaders.

BT coach Julianna Randazzo said that she expected her team to have a lead by the time that the swimmers lined up for the always-challenging 500-yard freestyle.

However, because St. Mary’s inched ahead at the point, Randazzo was hoping for the best.

She just couldn’t have anticipated getting the personal-best that Tusk gave the Warriors in the event.

Tusk was one of the Warriors many bright spots in the championship meet, cutting a whopping 22 seconds off his 500-yard freestyle time (5:43.78) to finish behind runaway winner Evan Graham (4:45.88) of Key School and Severn’s Ben Keith (5:39.84) to salvage critical third-place points for the Warriors in a nip-and-tuck battle against the Saints.

“You just don’t see many time drops like that,” Coach Randazzo said. “That was totally unexpected. Matan’s evolution has been amazing.”

He also finished fifth in the 100 butterfly and was part of the fourth-place 200 freestyle relay to help Beth Tfiloh nab the win.

“I’m so proud to be a member of this team,” Tusk said. “I saw where our team started at the beginning of the season. Watching everyone progress was so amazing. The satisfaction of winning was awesome as it is, but knowing how hard we all worked — that we gave it our all — it’s a whole different feeling.”

The Warriors started the meet in fine fashion with Illian Shapsay, Yonathan Dagan, Sammy Rotman and Jacob Goldman rallying to a win in the 200 medley relay (1:56.29) over Severn’s Tristan Collins, Jack Keith, Ben Keit and Harlan Erskine (1:51.30).

Shapsay (29.82) was the only performer to go under the 30-second mark on the backstroke leg of the event — other than St. Mary’s star Joe Hayburn’s sizzling 23.53.

“He’s an incredibly talented swimmer,” Randazzo said. “I always look forward to watching him swim.”

“Joe’s talent does not go unnoticed by the other coaches and teams,” St. Mary’s coach Allyson Reiter said. “His races are watched by all on the pool deck and he always receives applause and accolades from the other swimmers and spectators.”

Hayburn, who followed with a win in the 200 free (1:40.37) over Graham (1:47.47) and Rotman (1:58.45), would eventually grab the 100 backstroke (58.53) while snapping current University of Virginia standout Colin Blitz’s MIAA mark (58.83) in the event. Curley’s Michael Schecther (1:04.74) and St. Peter and Paul’s Gennie Webb (1:05.97) were next in line.

The Warriors also continued to score behind Dagan in the 200 individual medley (2:00.65), with Curley’s Jason Kellerman (2:04.22) and Key’s Jack Weinstein (2:19.10) behind him, and Goldman in the 50 free (23.86), followed by Shapsay (23.96) and Tower (24.45).

Kellerman nailed the 100 butterfly (56.17) as Rotman (56.79) and Ben Keith (58.79) were next before Jack Keith touched home first in the 100 free (50.93) with Shapsay (54.44) and John Carroll’s Ryan Fabriziani second and third, respectively.

Severn’s Hayden Gargagliano, Collins and the Keiths (1.39) came through in the 200 free relay ahead of Curley’s Schechter, Nicholas Petrik, Ethan Girard and Kellerman (1:40.43) before Dagan (1:02.25) beat Keith Jack (1:03.79) and Drucis (1:13.18) in the 100 breaststroke.

Shapsay, Dagan, Rotman and Goldman would shine in the pivotal 400 free relay (3:28.11) by beating St. Mary’s Charlie Tower, Alex Pickett, Jack Drucis and Hayburn (3:33.14) — in the junior’s final measure of heroics.

“Obviously, Joe is the leader of the team,” Reiter said. “Another outstanding performance, not for individual recognition (although the record books reflect differently) but to advance the goals of the team. His all-out efforts for the team ( a 45-[second] split in the final free relay) bring great pride to us and all of St. Mary’s.”

Randazzoi said that Rotman and Tower were “neck and neck” on the first leg, with the Warrior about a second ahead until BT pulled away.

“It was very exciting,” Randazzo said. “Our boys had to pull it off for us to win.”

She added that with only three hours of practice time in the Callowhill Aquatic Center pool per week, the Warriors had several obstacles to overcome.

“We looked at what we had and we evaluated,” she said. “We had to teach some of the new swimmers flip turns and starts, the whole nine. We did dryland workouts, cardio and lifting weights. But the first time I saw our 200 free relay in the first meet, I knew we were going to have a good season. To go undefeated…….when I took over the program five years ago, we were dead last. I just wanted to build a culture and for our team to be respected. I’m so proud and honored to be their coach.”

Reiter said that the Saints did the best that they could.

“Our team, a scrappy bunch of multi-sport athletes, did what they do best; compete and represent St. Mary’s well,” she said. “Only three athletes made the podium (two firsts and two thirds), the rest of our points were earned by motivated and talented athletes.

“Kudos to Beth Tfiloh, they fielded a really good team.”