Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, November 1. TODAY in Jacksonville, Fla., the Bolles School will be one step away from defending its Class 1A state swimming and diving titles — and one step closer to accomplishing a feat that will give the school another entry in its fabled run through high school swimming history.
This weekend finds Bolles hosting one of a dozen regional meets, the final meet before the state championships in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 9. The Bolles boys' team will be seeking an astounding 25th consecutive state title, while the girls are aiming for a 22nd straight championship. What will be more noteworthy on Nov. 9 is a chance for the boys to break three national high school relay records in one day. No school has ever accomplished that in the lengthy history of high school swimming.
Nearly one month ago, the boys at Bolles broke the national high school records in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays at an in-season meet on October 7. Next week at the Florida state championships, it is likely those two records will be lowered even further, since all four members of the squad — Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, Santo Condorelli and Josh Booth — will be fully shaved and tapered. During an interview on October 25 on The Morning Swim Show, Murphy said the national records were going to be the goal at the state meet.
Bolles already has the distinction of owning all three boys' national high school relay records at the same time, claiming the 200 medley relay in 2009 with a 1:29.79. No school before then owned all three records since the 200 freestyle relay was introduced in the 1990-1991 season, though two schools got close through the years.
The Germantown Academy girls' team was the first to nearly go three-for-three in relay records. The school already owned both free relay records in 1992, but couldn't gather a squad fast enough to take down longtime rival Peddie School's 200 medley relay record. The record was 1:45.78; Germantown swam a 1:47.54.
Peddie's girls' team in 1995 was the last squad to have the triple record distinction in their grasp. The 200 medley team of Margo Diamond, Elaine Schwartz, Amy Balcerzak and Nichole Robillard swam a 1:43.90 to break Bolles' record. Meghan Sonstegard, Marisa Chuliver, Balcerzak and Robillard broke the 200 free relay record with a 1:34.63, taking down a quick Pine Crest record. Unfortunately, the Peddie squad was disqualified in the finals of the 400 free relay, so no one is quite certain if the team had the capability of taking down Germantown's record of 3:24.74, though Peddie did swim a 3:26.21 in prelims.
(Because Schwartz was in eighth grade when she participated in Peddie's medley relay record swim, the national high school federation in 2001 ruled the swim ineligible as a high school record.)
Getting the three national relay records has been a difficult feat for the boys, thanks to a tough 400 free relay standard of 2:59.98 from Bolles that stood for nearly 20 years as the brass ring of high school swimming. Though eventually not ratified because the swim took place outside Bolles' high school season, it remained every school's Holy Grail, even when the official record was lowered to a more feasible 3:01.80.
Interestingly, it didn't seem difficult for schools to own the national records in the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay before 1991. Bolles, Peddie and Mission Viejo were just three schools to get that pedigree. But once the 200 free relay came into play, schools didn't have the depth needed to load up all three relays to the point of being in record contention. Many of the top high school swimmers also did not take advantage of the rules and swim one individual event and all three relays, choosing instead to swim two individual events and two relays.
Bolles' history-making day is certainly within reach, specifically because Murphy, Schooling and Condorelli will only swim one individual event at the state meet. Obviously, the freestyle relay records are vulnerable. But the medley relay potential remains an unknown. At a dual meet a few days before the freestyle relay accomplishments, Bolles swam a 1:31.59 in the medley relay, two seconds off the national record. Murphy said in his Morning Swim Show interview that none of the swimmers wore top-of-the-line racing suits and had a full day of school and a morning workout behind them. We hear this from swimmers all the time when crowing about an in-season swim, and while it's likely the Bolles swimmers were tired that day — and based on other results from the meet, it does appear to be true — the fact remains that a sprint medley relay from Bolles this year could either break 1:29 or barely dip under 1:31. It all depends on where the swimmers are placed.
Obviously, Murphy belongs on the backstroke leg, and Condorelli is the natural choice for freestyle. Schooling's best stroke is butterfly, so that leg is where he would best contribute. The breaststroke leg will be the toughest part of the relay, since it was a key 50 that helped Bolles crack 1:30 in 2009. Sergio Lujan Rivera split a blistering 24.37 on the breaststroke leg that year, a feat that would be hard to match in 2012. To put some perspective on Lujan Rivera's split, it would have ranked 11th among the breaststroke splits in the finals of the 200 medley relay at the 2010 NCAAs, and 12th in the 2012 NCAA meet. Bolles does not seem to have a swimmer capable of splitting faster than 26-low, based on times from the 100 breast done this season, but with a national record on the line, the impossible often becomes possible.
Though it might be a tall order for Bolles to accomplish three relay records in one day, I have to commend Bolles for having the depth to even make it possible, and the sense to train young swimmers to be more than one-stroke wonders. To have a combination of the four fastest freestylers in the country is a major coup, but to be able to put together the fastest high school medley relay in history in the same year is just as remarkable. Even if Bolles does not get the medley relay record, it's a near certainty that the school will enjoy the No. 1 national ranking all three relays in next year's Swimming World Magazine high school national championships, a crucial part of Bolles' attempt to repeat as national champions.
Bolles is about to raise the bar for high school swimming. Once someone does the unthinkable, many eventually follow in their footsteps.
Jeff Commings never had the opportunity to be a part of a national high school relay record team, but he was the nation's top high school breaststroker in his senior year. He still holds the Missouri state high school record in the 100-yard breaststroke, a 54.78 that was set in 1991. You can reach Jeff at email@example.com.