Jessica Merritt knew she and her SwimMAC Carolina relay-team teammates hadn’t been turning in their best effort during the summer.
But it all came together for Merritt and her fellow swimmers July 10 in Athens, Ga.
Merritt and her SwimMAC teammates – Pine Lake Prep senior Alyssa Marsh and recent high school graduates Kathleen Baker and Rebecca Postoll – set a national age-group record in the women’s 400-meter freestyle relay at the Speedo Southern Zone Sectionals meet.
SwimMAC Carolina’s time of 3 minutes, 45.51 seconds shattered the national 17-18 age-group record by nearly three seconds and eclipsed the nation’s best age-group time in the event by more than four seconds.
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“I never knew until we got to that session (at the Southern Zone Sectionals) that we were going for any sort of record,” said Merritt, a rising senior at Hough High.
“We hadn’t really done a fast relay like that at all this season, so this was a really big kickoff to the end of the season for our relays. We’re usually pretty strong in the relays, so that was really exciting to be a part of.”
Merritt swam the second leg of the 400 freestyle relay at the Southern Zone Sectionals. Baker, a nationally ranked swimmer who will attend University of California at Berkeley in fall, swam the leadoff leg; Marsh, twice the most outstanding swimmer at the NCHSAA 1A/2A state championships, swam the third leg; and Postoll, who will attend Michigan this fall after graduating from Charlotte Catholic, swam the anchor leg.
“We were swimming in a different order, which was kind of confusing,” Merritt said. “There were two different records we were going for: the 15-18-year-old record and the 17-18 record. I knew we all had to swim in the 55s or 56s (seconds) to get them.
“All we were trying to do was get close to that. This wasn’t our big meet, so we were just trying to swim as fast as we can, and hopefully come out with a good outcome.”
Not only did the team break the national record, its time was nearly three seconds faster than runner-up Club Wolverine, which touched second in 3:48.44. It also was less than a second off the 15-18 national record of 3:44.88, held by the Carmel (Ind.) Swim Club.
What was the first thing that crossed Merritt’s mind?
“I guess it was being part of a national age-group record with three awesome girls,” Merritt said. “It’s not something you think of when you’re training in practice. Going out there and doing that without training specifically for that was really, really exciting.”
Merritt and the SwimMAC team will have a chance at the other age-group record at the Speedo Junior Nationals, scheduled for July 30-Aug. 3 in San Antonio.
While Baker, who will compete in the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the following week, won’t be available, SwimMAC Carolina has a number of capable replacements on the women’s 400 freestyle relay team.
Baker will be replaced by either recent Charlotte Catholic grad and Texas commit Nora McCullagh, a three-time most outstanding swimmer award-winner at the NCHSAA state championships; or fellow Hough High teammate Erika Brown, who swam the anchor leg on the SwimMAC team that holds the nation’s best 15-18 time this season (3:49.65).
“We’ve got a really good chance at the 15-18-year-old record,” Merritt said. “Nora could possibly be on it, or Erika Brown could be on it. It all depends on how we swim individually.
“Once we get out there and get some racing under our belts, then we’ll decide.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.