Curtain call for Counties 2019
Can we talk about the weather? Pretty sure there wasn’t any head tennis being played in shorts and t-shirts (optional for some) during the interval at the Notts ASA Summer gala in July but there was at the final weekend of the Notts ASA County Championships... in February.
And that’s not the most surreal thing to come out of the weekend where for once Mother Nature didn’t need the quality of the Green Octopus’ swimmers to help raise temperatures.
So that was Counties 2019 and it’s a great time to benchmark where we’ve come from to where we are. Months of training, racing, anguish and triumph have built up and up into qualifications and expectations; and then in a blink of an eye it’s done for another year.
Saturday’s session focussed on the last two individual events; the 200M IM and the 1,500M Free. Some might say the return of one silver medal (Rebeka Hodi in the 10/11 years girls) from the 200IM was disappointing but that doesn’t take into account the quality and depth of the performances put in, the number of PB’s set and the collective spirit shown once again. To go better, harder and faster than ever before is all anybody can ask for and that makes us all very proud of those wearing green.
The 1,500M always reflects the hardcore and a bespoke round of applause for just stepping onto the blocks. The golds earned by Rosie Dickerson (13 years girls) and Kris Moodley (16+ years boys) were more than complimented by Connor Byron’s 4th place in the 14 years boys (Have a look at Connor’s splits for a lesson in swimming to pace and consistency).
At the end of the individual events, our final medal haul stood at 58 (24 golds, 20 silvers and 14 bronze) coming from our 181 finalists (top eight). That’s a pretty hefty chunk of bling to be draped around our shoulders.
This success obviously transferred into the NCATS points awards too. Golds for Josh Skinner and Emma Erskine and silvers for Luke Derivan and Rebeka Hodi stand out alongside our other top ten placing for Emma Beale, Alexandra Tomlinson, Evie Ferrer, Marissa Li, George Cummings, Rose Dickerson, James Danson, Finley Ellis, Jess Li, Ziyenne Shanker, Will Soden-Barton, Andrew Hall and Annie Pearson.
But we need to talk about the relays.
Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. But if the weather was playing tricks on us then the wall of sound and colour that hit you when you walked through the door confirmed that you really were a long way from Kansas. This was special.
With teams decked out in pink t-shirts and gold cowboy hats looking like an obscure hen-party to our friends from the north arriving en masse with their camouflage hats, foam pointy hands, air horns and plastic clappers and far too many people bedecked in body paint to count. This wasn’t the final day of the County Championships; this was a tribal pool party.
And NLSC being NLSC we were up front and centre to have it.
This is where our strength in depth shines through and the quality of racing throughout was immense. It could be easy to wilt in such circumstances (the noise, the colour, the pressure of not letting your teammates down, being up against the best from the rest of the county) but all of our swimmers stood tall and swam harder, faster, stronger throughout.
Early morning starters for the mixed relays set the tone for the day with medals coming from the 9/10 years (2 x Bronze), 12 years Medley (Silver), 14 years (Free Gold, Medley Bronze), 16 years (2 x Gold) and 17+ (Medley Gold). Hard racing over each of the 50M legs paid its rewards handsomely but had we peaked too soon.
Lunchtime came along with the reinforcements. Standing proud with the biggest squad again our A and B teams took to the heats. Crazy splits backed up gutsy performances as the team came first in everyone’s thoughts. And come the finals, the Octopus went out medal hunting again.
The lead off from our 9/10 years girls 200M Free team will live long in the memory.
Qualifying 4th over six seconds behind CABSC they looked up against it on paper. But you don’t swim on paper and reputations are there to be made.
A great opening leg from Elissa Bowen was backed up Poppy Westmorland to give our youngest squad a six second lead at halfway. But as our rivals had loaded the final two legs, would we hold on? Could we hold on?
Step up Eve Horsley and Isla Mitchell against the noise, the expectation and the pressure.
In her second ever gala for the club Eve took the third leg and swam free and fast to maintain the lead. In the last leg as much as Isla sprinted the wall seemed further and further away. The deeper the crowd breathed, the greater the crowd urged her on as CABSC and Carlton Forum were forever getting nearer and nearer. This was racing and it stirred emotions in all swimmers, past and present.
It came to the touch and eyes flicked up the scoreboard; it was close, we knew it was close but had they? For once a serenity fell across the stands and poolside; Leander’s time wasn’t displayed.
The silence lasted an eternity as all eyes focussed on the scoreboard. Nobody blinked.
The scoreboard refreshed in slow motion to “No.1 Nottm Leander A” by 0.25 seconds; the trance broken by the roar of the Green Octopus.
If these girls never swim again they can retire 100 feet tall at what they achieved. But please let that be the start of some long careers and go chase that feeling again and again and again.
More success followed with NLSC winning three events on the spin and summed up by the guttural roar from Jamie Danson bring home gold for the 14 years boys 200M Medley team. Third going into the final leg with over a second to make up, a 27.2 split saw gold being taken by almost a second. And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke he backed it up with another 27.2 split in the 200M Free event too, topping off a wire to wire victory by almost two seconds.
Great final legs can only be achieved by a strong foundation in the first three legs across the whole team. The platforms provided to Jamie by Finn Ellis, Conor Byron and McKenzie Matthews showed that all relay medals are a true four person effort.
Other golds came from our 14 and 16 years girls 200M Free teams. One an utterly dominant display and the other a fingertip finish ahead of Sutton A to win by 0.11 seconds.
Other medals came from the 12 years girls 200 Medley and Free teams (2 x bronze), 14 years girls 200M Medley (Silver – this time on the wrong end of a fingertip finish against Sutton A), 16 years boys 200M Free and Medley teams (2 x Silver) medley and our 17/over men’s 400M Free and Medley team (1 x silver, 1 x Bronze).
The number of B Team finalists too should also hold their heads up high. The experience gained from swimming up in age groups show the base talent we develop as a club.
Special mention has to go to Andrew Hall who epitomised the spirit and leadership of the Leander way. As always there are too many individuals in green that make you proud to be connected to NLSC to mention and by no means was Andrew alone in this but something just stood out.
Coming second twice to an excellent squad from Retford is nothing to be ashamed of, despite the competitive drive in our team. But to make a point of shaking each and every one of the Retford squad’s, his team mates and other competitors hands to congratulate them on some amazing swimming was sportsmanship of the highest standard. It was a natural act; not because he had to but because he wanted to. Good work fella.
So another nine golds, six silvers and six bronze from the madness of the relay sessions left us with a final collection of 79 (33 golds, 26 silvers and 20 bronze) coming from our 213 finalists (top eight) from the Championships
But medals as always only tell us so much. Our swimmers swam together, cheered together, looked like early starters for St Patrick’s Day together and showed the collective spirit that will carry us through together for the rest of the year. The tattoos will fade, the body paint will wash off but the collective achievements over the three weekends will stand the test of time.
Thank you Counties 2019. We’re NLSC and we’re swimming harder, stronger, faster and happier than ever before. We’ll see you next year.