By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A few hundred people packed the aquatics facility at the Cape May County Special Services School District Monday afternoon to watch two close, friendly rivals make history.
The girls swimming teams from Middle Township and Cape May Tech, who share the facility for practice and home meets, battled for a chance to reach the South Jersey Public C championship meet.
The electric atmosphere surrounding the pool, coupled with the effort of the swimmers from both teams, made for an intense, exciting meet. Middle Township came away with a 105-65 victory thanks to its superior depth to reach the South Jersey title meet for the first time in program history.
“We knew each other well. It was friendly, but at same time it was very competitive,” said Middle’s Ishika Patel. “We wanted it so badly and they did, too. This is just an amazing feeling for us.”
Middle will most likely swim against Haddonfield in the South Jersey title meet Wednesday. Haddonfield, the top seed and an overwhelming favorite to win its semifinal Tuesday against Oakcrest, is one of the top teams in the state.
Patel was part of four first-place finishes and Ilieva was part of three first-place finishes to lead Middle in the meet. Individually, Patel claimed first in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, while Ilieva won the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. They were both part of the winning 200 medley real team along with Sophia Bosacco and Sophia Braun, with Patel also joining Catherine Bostard, Samantha Braun and Sophia Braun for first place in the 200 freestyle relay.
Middle took control of the meet from the start by placing first and second in the medley relay. Lucy Rowe, Maddie Deane, Sarina Wen and Samantha Braun made up the second-place team. That allowed the Lady Panthers to take a 12-2 lead after just one event.
“That made us feel better about ourselves,” Ilieva said. “We were positive in the beginning but doing that in the first event gave us even more confidence.”
Sophia Bosacco also won the 100 backstroke for Middle Township, which improved to 6-2 in dual meets. The Lady Panthers were also the Cape-Atlantic National Conference champions for the first time this season.
“I think we swam very well. We knew we had to swim well to get to the South Jersey final,” said DeDe Bosacco, Middle’s head coach and the mother of Sophia Bosacco. “The girls were very serious. Each event we had a plan. They knew exactly what places we needed to get and it went almost exactly as we had planned.
“It’s amazing to finally make a South Jersey final. I’ve been here nine years and this is the first time we’ve been CAL champs and the first time we’re going to a South Jersey final. It’s a real honor. These kids have worked so, so hard.”