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Kerry Giovannello, Paige Kaplan lead Bellmore-Merrick to title

From Day 1 of the Nassau girls swimming season, Bellmore-Merrick coach Robert Kafer told his squad they were the team to beat.

His confidence in his team was validated as Bellmore-Merrick upended perennial champion Garden City Saturday, 101-82, in a Conference I swimming meet.

The win did two things for Bellmore-Merrick; it earned Kafer's squad the Conference I title for the first time in school history and halted Garden City's conference winning streak at 103.

"It obviously speaks to the talent of this team," said Kafer, who has run the program for 17 years. "This is the best team I've had an opportunity to coach."

Leading the way for Bellmore-Merrick (8-0) was Kerry Giovannello, who won the 200-yard freestyle in a school-record 1:54.52 and the 100 free in 54.21.

Giovannello's record time in the 200 free bested her previous mark of 1:55.26 set last season.

Paige Kaplan won the 200 IM in 2:10.81 and won the 100 butterfly in a school-record time of 58.83, beating the previous mark of 59.14 she set last year.

So which accomplishment was more satisfying, winning the Conference I title or beating perennial powerhouse Garden City?

"It's great to end Garden City's streak, but winning the championship is more important," Kafer said.

Other standouts for Bellmore-Merrick include Gabbie Toback, who won the 50 free (24.72) and the 100 backstroke (1:08) and Jessica Arana, who took first in the 500 freestyle in 5:06.78.

Laura Vanella won the 100 breaststroke in 1:12.15, and Liz Walsh took second in the 100 free (55.66) and the 100 backstroke (1:04.06).

Bellmore-Merrick's 200 medley relay of Toback, Kaplan, Arana and Jaimie Kafer also took first in 1:50.96.

Bellmore-Merrick's season is far from over. Next up is the division championships, followed by the county championships.

"We'll have to do it one more time," Kafer said of facing Garden City again. "I told the girls we still have a long way to go."

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