With two races to go, it all looked so promising for the Bishop McGuinness boys’ swimming team to win the team title in the NCHSAA 1-A/2-A swimming and diving championships at the Triangle Aquatic Center.
The Villains faltered in the last two races and finished fourth. However, Alex Van Der Linden of West Davidson was a double winner, winning the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle.
The Villains led Washington with just the 100-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard freestyle relay to go. However, the Villains didn’t place anybody in the breaststroke. Down 10.5 points to start the 400 free relay, Sean Farley, Paul Farley, Ethan Chase and Myles Sims finished in 13th place, dropping the team to fourth place overall with 202 points, 34.5 behind Washington.
“We didn’t have anything in the last relays that would’ve overcome the top three teams that were behind us. I felt good about where we were. I thought something might happen, but it didn’t,” said second-year coach Dana St. Claire of McGuinness. “I’m still proud of my guys. They swam really well.”
The Villains were led by senior Alex Strasser. He swam the first leg on the winning 200-yard freestyle relay team (1:28.98) that also had Sean Farley, Thomas Hamlet and Jeffrey Davidson. Strasser swam the final leg in the 200-yard medley relay, helping the Villains finish second (1:38.99) behind Carrboro (1:37.63). Strasser also finished second in the 100-yard butterfly (50.50), losing to Will MacMillan (48.26) of Carrboro. And he finished third in the 50 free, 51-hundredths of a second behind Van Der Linden.
“You’re going to go as fast as possible at this meet,” Strasser said. “We don’t mess around. It doesn’t matter if you’re year-round or you’re just doing this for high school swimming. This is where it all kind of ends up. So it was really great to see that we were able come together and finish fourth.”
Hamlet, a freshman, finished second in the 100-yard backstroke at 53.46, losing to Levi Andrews (51.76) of Washington.
“It’s disappointing in a way, but we’re happy with how we’ve come as a team,” Hamlet said. “Our relays are really strong. How we swim as a team, that’s really what matters.”
Van Der Linden, a senior from West Davidson, was the lone swimmer from the Northwest to win an individual award. In addition to winning the 50, he won the 100 free at 47.07.
Van Der Linden has dual citizenship in the United States after moving to Miami from Aruba as a 2-year-old in 1999. His family moved to Atlanta in 2001, and it has lived in Tyro since his father purchased the Davidson County Airport in 2009. He has been accepted at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and said he might walk-on next year.
“After four years, it finally paid off,” Van Der Linden said. “I’ve been coming here for four years, and for the first time I’ve got some state titles under my belt. I’m pretty excited since it’s my last swim ever in high school.”
He shaved 49-hundredths of a second off his best time in the 50, and he said his time in the 100 was his best time ever. He has one thing in mind as to how to celebrate.
“I’m ready to put my name on the board (at West Davidson), he said. “We have a state champion board on our wall, and they’ll put Alex Van Der Linden. And it’s going to be there forever.”
Pine Lake Prep won the girls title with 326 points, cruising past Carrboro by 87 points. East Surry finished sixth with 150 and was the best finisher in the Northwest.
Leading the Cardinals was Kelsey Tunstall. Tunstall finished second in the 200 individual medley at 2:09.15, behind Alexandria Baker of Lincoln Charter (2:05.75). She swam the last leg of 400 free relay (3:55.07) that finished second, and she finished third in the 100 back (57.80).
“It’s really amazing,” Tunstall said. “It’s really cool to see all you’ve worked for on the scoreboard when you’re done.”