When Ward Melville's Rachael Bertini stepped out of the pool, all she heard was cheering. It was a nice sound, but the senior knew that it wasn't directed toward her squad.
The cheers were for Clarence, a school from Erie, N.Y. Ward Melville had finished second in the 200-yard medley relay at the New York State Swimming and Diving Championships two weeks ago at Ithaca College. It was a nice finish for the Patriots, worthy of praise, but it wasn't a championship.
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Then someone delivered the news that Bertini and her three teammates will remember forever. Clarence had been disqualified. The Ward Melville swimmers, after finishing in 1 minute, 48.38 seconds, were state champions.
"We thought he was lying,'' Cassandra Willie, who swam the third leg of the race, said of the news brought by an opposing coach. "We didn't believe him.''
But it was true. Bertini, Willie, Casey Gavigan and Sarah Schoenfeld were headed to the top of the podium.
"I realized that I'd be able to stand on the podium with my favorite teammates,'' Gavigan said. "It's a moment that I'll never forget.''
Gavigan led off the race with the backstroke.
"I wanted to get the lead and put the team in a good spot for the rest of the race,'' Gavigan, who finished in 27.17 seconds, said. "You need to go as fast as you can the entire time. There's no holding back.''
Schoenfeld was next up, set to swim the breaststroke.
"Because I'm in the middle, my job is to keep the relay going,'' Schoenfeld said. "I don't want to fall behind, so I try to either get ahead or stay with the people next to us. I think I did that pretty well. I kept the relay going strong.''
As Schoenfeld waited, the junior kept a watchful eye on her teammate in the pool -- fully aware of the importance of Gavigan's opening leg.
"I'm depending on Casey to have a somewhat good lead, even though that's hard to do,'' Schoenfeld said. "In the first 50, I'm looking for her to give me a little bit of a start so that I'm not completely struggling to stay with everyone. She did that very well. I'm proud of her.''
After Schoenfeld swam a 31.41, it was Willie's turn in the butterfly, and she clocked 25.89.
Finally, it was Bertini's turn. The senior anchor knew that she was the last link to a title, something that she and her three teammates had only dreamed about the night before.
After Bertini's leg -- 23.91 -- those dreams were realized. Now all that was left was the presentation of the gold.
"The medal is pretty heavy, but I guess that's good,'' Bertini said. "It was amazing to be able to go up on the highest podium and say that we're first in the state.''