by Cliff Mehrtens

The Hough High girls’ swimming team crushed the competition and the state record book.

The Huskies set four state records en route to winning the N.C. 4A swimming and diving championship at Triangle Aquatics Center in Cary on Feb. 7, scoring 323 points to runnerup Cary Green Hope’s 236. It was the second straight state championship for Hough, which is a third-year school.

Hough had three state champions in individual events (two by Emily Allen and one by Jessica Merritt), two relay teams that won titles and three third-place finishes. But it was how the Huskies won that was the most impressive.

Allen, a sophomore, set state records in winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events. She won the 50 in 23.02 seconds and the 100 in 49.77 seconds, nearly three seconds ahead of the field (a difficult task in a short race). Both of Allen’s winning times earned automatic All-American status.

She swam despite battling flu-like symptoms.

“I warmed up really well and my stroke felt good,” Allen said. “I felt strong, which is always good.”

Hough also set state records with dominant performances in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays. The Huskies broke the record for the 200 during the preliminaries, then broke their own mark in the final with a time of 1 minute, 35.04 seconds. The winning quartet was Shannon Bauer, Heather Merritt, Jessica Merritt and Allen.

The 400-yard relay team of Heather Merritt, Ally Dupay, Jessica Merritt and Allen won in a record time of 3:24.83, nearly six seconds ahead of the second-place team.

“All the girls were super-excited,” Hough coach Tim Queen said. “Each of them had worked so hard. We were very fortunate to have such talented, hard-working swimmers here. All our relays swam well, and we had three divers in the (state’s) top eight.”

Karly Adams was third in diving, and teammates Katelyn Abernathy (fifth) and Morgan Donnelly (eighth) earned valuable points.

Hough’s Jessica Merritt capped an outstanding freshman season with a state championship in the 200-yard freestyle (1:48.84) and a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. Heather Merritt was third in the 100-yard backstroke.

The Huskies scored well with fourth-place finishes in the 200-yard medley relay (Alexandria Kitchens, Dupay, Kathryn O’Brien and Bauer) and the 500-yard freestyle (Dupay).

“The girls that were returning to the state meet felt comfortable with the whole crowd scenario and they helped the freshmen not be intimidated,” Queen said. “Their leadership was critical. And Emily (Allen) almost couldn’t breathe, but she swam with heart. To be perfect at that level, considering her physical condition, was very impressive.”

The core of Hough’s team is underclassmen, and nearly all of them swim year-round for club teams. That means the Huskies’ status as a state power should remain intact for a while.

“We have the best support system for everyone here at Hough,” Allen said. “It’s an individual sport, and it’s sometimes hard to get pumped up. But if you have a bad race, the support and love you get is great. We’re like a big family, and to swim this well is impressive for such a young school.”

Said Queen: “They’re all so driven to do well. They don’t want to let their teammates down.”

The Huskies, who also won the N.C. 4A West regional meet, didn’t overdo the state championship celebration.

“We all went out to eat and the bus ride home was a lot of fun,” Allen said. “There definitely wasn’t a lot of sleep.”

Hough girls swimming roster

Katelyn Abernathy

Karly Adams

Emily Allen

Rachel Anderson

Olivia Bandi

Shannon Bauer

Rachel Bright

Anna Brown

Emily Brown

Amor Camatcho

Katrina Cassel

Carolyn Collins

Rachel Desch

Morgan Donnelly

Haley Driest

Ally Dupay

Meghan Dupay

Elizabeth Fieno

Hailey Foscue

Rebecca Goheen

Emilee Hansen

Alexandria Kitchens

Kaitlyn Lambert

Kathryn Lesseur

Lauren Lineweaver

Rachel Lineweaver

Ashley May

Heather Merritt

Jessica Merritt

Kathryn O’Brien

Hannah Schriefer

Brooke Schroeder

Kellen Stierli

Carolina Swanner

Mackenzie Westway

Jessica White

Michaella Wu