Confidence and controversy: Chargers overcome ‘bad call’ to claim school-best 3rd place in state meet

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CARY — No, Abby Emrich said with confidence and a little giggle at the conclusion of the NCHSAA 3A Swimming and Diving State Championships at Triangle Aquatic Center last Friday.

Webbed feet don’t run in the family.

“We’re very tall,” the freshman Northwood swimmer said, explaining why she and sister Lauren, a junior, have mad water skills that helped to propel the Chargers to a third-place team finish — believed to be the school’s best-ever showing at the state meet. Well, that, and they’ve been at it since the age of 2 or 3, and also compete on a year-round club team.

Abby seized 3rd place in the Women’s 200 Yard Individual Medley, 5th place in the Women’s 100 Yard Butterfly and was on the Women’s 200 Yard Freestyle Relay team with senior Gwen Hoeg, junior Bianca Perez and senior Julia Earnshaw that nabbed a silver medal.

Lauren was on the Women’s 200 Yard Medley Relay team with senior Mia Corrado, Hoeg and Earnshaw that won silver, and finished 6th individually in the Women’s 100 Yard Breaststroke.

“We have very different skillsets,” Abby Emrich said. “I prefer butterfly and freestyle, and she’s a very good breaststroker and backstroker.

“I had some pretty high expectations coming into the meet,” she added. “I was pretty excited to come here and race no matter what place I got, so I was pretty thrilled with the places that I got.”

She was also ecstatic with setting a personal best in the 200-yard freestyle during the preliminaries, and then shattering that mark by two seconds in the finals after picking up steam on her final lap to move up in the field.

“I guess I was just trying to give everything I had into coming home. I saw a bunch of people around me and I was just trying to not breathe and get to the wall,” Abby Emrich said. “Normally the first half of the race is my strength, but this time I really just powered home.”

“Third is awesome. It’s higher than we’ve placed before,” said first-year coach Rebecca Reed. “The girls all swam so fast. Lots of best times, not just high-school best times but the fastest they’ve ever swam, so they all had a lot to be proud of.”

Still, Reed conceded, finishing third was bittersweet, considering what might have been.

Northwood was in a solid second place behind eventual winner Carrboro going into the last event, the Women’s 400 Yard Freestyle Relay. But the Chargers didn’t have a relay team in that event.

J.H. Rose of Greenville finished second in the race, and picked up 34 points while Northwood watched helplessly as they fell to third place in the final team standings, 8 team points out of second.

The Chargers’ 400-yard free relay team got disqualified at the regional qualifier and was disallowed entry to the state meet.

“They disqualified me because they said that my feet didn’t touch the wall, but my toes touched the wall, and I wouldn’t lie,” said Earnshaw, a senior, who insists she felt her toes dig into and push off the wall.

“They disqualified us and didn’t even give us a chance to hear what we had to say,” Earnshaw said. “I felt bad. I’m not going to blame myself for that. It was just a bad call. They didn’t see it I guess.”

Reed said the disqualification was highly controversial. She is confident Earnshaw, a seasoned senior, did not make the freshman mistake the judges alleged.

It was especially unsettling since the 400-yard free relay has been a strong point for Northwood. The team of Earnshaw and her sister Suzanne, Corrado and Hoeg finished in 4th place at states in 2021, 6th in 2020, and the Earnshaw sisters, Corrado and Madeline Posse captured 4th in 2019.

Earnshaw, who will be swimming for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton next year, did get a silver medal for her role on the Women’s 200 Yard Medley Relay team. She also was awarded a 4th place individual medal in the Women’s 100 Yard Freestyle and finished 5th in the Women’s 50 Yard Freestyle.

“I think the 50 and 100 free are 100% the fastest events at this meet, so I’m very proud of myself for making it that high up. It’s awesome,” Earnshaw said.

The 200 Yard Medley Relay team had a terrific showing, she said, finishing second to Carrboro by .03 of a second in the preliminaries, and .52 of a second in the finals.

Carrboro’s team included commits to UNC, Texas and New York University, Earnshaw said, “so the fact that we could even get that close to them is super impressive, and I’m just so proud of my team.”

Corrado took 3rd in the Women’s 500 Yard Freestyle and shared a silver medal in the Women’s 200 Yard Medley Relay, but she was particularly pleased with her 2nd place in the Women’s 100 Yard Backstroke.

“That was a really fun race, it was really fun to race Emily,” Corrado said. “I feel like I did a really good job executing. I tried to keep my first 50 and second 50 as close as possible in splits, so I feel like that was really well executed.”

Corrado, a senior who has been swimming since she was 8 years old, was up against some fierce competition in the 500-yard freestyle. Emma Hastings of J.H. Rose set a state record, finishing at 4:48.78 in the finals to claim automatic All-American honors, but Corrado kept her time of 5:06.07 in perspective.

“I felt like I was pretty consistent through the race and it was fun to race some of those really fast swimmers in the state, so it was just a really good experience all around,” she said, noting that she shaved 8 seconds off her time in the preliminaries.

Corrado, who will continue competing for UNC-Wilmington next year, appreciated the total team effort.

“We’ve been scoring lots of points and I feel like at this meet we’ve been doing really, really well all around in every single event we’ve been swimming,” she said. “It’s been great to swim with them and to see them throughout the year.”

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