By Perry L. Novak
ITHACA — Orchard Park's fifth-place team finish led Section VI at the New York State Public High School Girls Swimming and Diving Championships on Saturday.
The Quakers scored 116.33 points to trail Section V schools Pittsford (217), Sleepy Hollow/Hastings/Edgemont/Irvington (202), Hempstead Sacred Heart Academy (161) and Bethlehem (124.50). A fourth-place finish by the opening 200 medley relay team of Isabella Mikulec, MacKenzie Fischer, Paige Salmon and Katie Jones got things started for the Western New York powerhouse.
"They're really good athletes," OP coach Bret Norvilitis said of his team that clocked a 1 minute, 47.11 seconds, one second faster than in Friday's preliminary race at Ithaca College. "They had a 1:48.74 in the Class finals two weeks ago. They stuck together and were really excited to go really fast. They dropped their time. This is our best (start) in the five years I've been coaching."
Mikulec started the race with a 27.55 split to get OP in contention for making the medals stand. Fischer followed with a solid swim then Salmon had one of her best splits to set up Jones' strong anchor swim.
"We were pretty nervous," Salmon admitted afterward, "but we wanted to do well. It was fun."
Fischer felt the same.
"That was so much fun," the junior said. "We moved up a place. It was awesome. The finals are so hyped. I wanted to do it for my teammates."
Section VI, which finished sixth in the sectional team standings with 153.83 points, did not have a finalist in the next two races, but had two in the 50 freestyle. East Aurora's Mary Brinker and Panama's Karianne Yuchnitz swam in a very competitive field. Oceanside's Catherine Stanford won with a time of 23.38 and Brinker, a junior, was close behind with her 23.76 that placed fourth. Yuchnitz, a senior, was tied for sixth with Bethlehem's Sydney Sorbello with a 24.03.
The 50 was so competitive that Makayla Scheu, a senior from Eden, made the top 10 despite being in the second consolation heat. Scheu swam 24.29 to jump past girls in the finals heat and placed ninth.
Brinker had little time to rest as she was back in the pool two events later for the 100 freestyle. Her time of 52.63 was good for seventh.
"I was really happy with it," Brinker said of her weekend swims. "I had my best (times) yesterday and my second best today. There was a little pressure and it was making me stress. But my coaches and teammates (were) really positive."
It showed as Brinker was poised on the blocks and strong throughout her races, and she beat her previous year's efforts.
"I was eighth last year at states, and this is my third time," Brinker said of why she had such improvement. "And it's because of my East Aurora teammates and coaches and my club team. They push me. I'm happy."
OP's relay girls were next to reach the finals in the 200 freestyle relay. Fischer, Isabel Sapio, Sarah Conley and Jones teamed for a 1:38.26 to place fourth.
The last Section VI individual to make the finals was Hamburg's Jessica Humby. The freshman was sixth with a time of 1:04.85 in the 100 breaststroke. It was a gutsy swim by the rising star who was last midway through the race. Her strong finish was the difference and it helped Section VI pick up valuable points.
OP closed out the scoring for Western New York by finishing ninth in the 400 freestyle relay. Conley, Allison McCune, Mikulec and Emily Blake clocked in at 3:35.70, more than one-half second better than they swam in the preliminary round on Friday.
East Aurora finished tied for 33rd in the field of 91 schools. Hamburg was tied for 50th and was followed by Panama (57th), Eden (58th), Iroquois (61st) and Kenmore West and Williamsville East (tied for 66th).
Pittsford won the individual team title with 217 points. Northport's Emily Stepanek was named the meet's Most Outstanding Swimmer. Section I won the sectional title chase with 715.67 points. Section V was second with 286.