Twice the Speed: Bernal’s Gator Women Repeat as U.S. Junior National Champions

By Candida G. Brush and David M. Scott

WALTHAM, Mass., July 10. ONCE again, teamwork and depth were the deciding factors for the top team in a big meet.

This April, the women of Bernal’s Gator Swim Club finished first in the points heap for the short course 2003 NCSA Junior Nationals held in Orlando, Florida. The Gator Women proved for the second year that all-around strength—rather than the reliance on a lone superstar—wins meets. The Gator women’s victory in the long-course 2002 NCSA Junior National Championship held in Boca Raton, FL in August of 2002 began the team’s winning streak.

Swimming against 600 athletes representing 60 top teams from 20 states, the nine senior women from the Bernal Gator’s Swim Club of Waltham, Mass., took first with 406.5 points to bring home their second Junior National Championship Banner in a year. The Gators outscored Curl-Burke Swim Club (Maryland, with 389 points) and Arizona Desert Fox (Arizona, 364 points).

The deciding factor in the victory was the club’s fine relay teams: the Gator women won three of the five events.

"This is a reflection of a team commitment to achieve a specific goal," Coach Joe Bernal explains. "It was a challenge to the character of the team to win two consecutive championships."

In the 200-yard medley relay, Katie Fritsch teamed with Caroline Dowd, Annie Kelley and Karen Gately to shatter the existing meet record by 2 seconds with a 1:45.12. The team also took first in the 400 medley with a senior national time of 3:50.26.

Gately, Kelly, Chase Butler and Jessica Aiello also raced a senior national time to take first in the 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:28.20. "I’m really happy to be part of another championship accomplishment,” says Karen Gately. "All the hard work was worth it."

The Gator "B" relay placed 6th out of 23 teams in the 200 yard medley relay, which beat the "A" teams of nearly all other clubs. A Gator team also took sixth in the 200 freestyle relay. The points earned in the relays certainly propelled the Gators to victory in the meet.

Individual Gator swimmers posted 14 top-12 finishes, including a first for Fritsch in the 50 butterfly with a time of 25.08. The sophomore also took sixth in the 200 backstroke and seventh in the 100 backstroke.

Fritsch was named an "All Star" for the meet. "I’m so thrilled to win Juniors and break the 400 relay record," Fritsch said after her win. "It’s a great meet and I am looking forward to Nationals."

The Gator women, who also won the women’s division of the Northeast Speedo Sectional Championships, will have a chance to go for a third title this summer at NCSA Long Course Championships before their four seniors leave for college. Brush will join the Brown University Bears; Butler will attend Yale University; Aiello is off to The University of Pennsylvania and Kelly to Villanova.

The Bernal Gator’s swim team has coached several Olympic, senior national, junior national and NCAA college swimmers over the past 20 years. Swimmers train under the direction of Coach Joe Bernal at Bentley College, in Waltham, MA and at with Jay Craft, at Percy Walker Pool in Duxbury, MA.

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