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Splashing Stars

MCSL bids farewell to Hafkin in its annual championship meet.

Qualifying for the county's All-Star swimming meet never grows old for Potomac Glen swimmers Dorothy Yu and Jenny Erickson. Yu's made it for seven straight years, Erickson for six, but it remains an honor for them to compete in the Montgomery County Swim League's annual championship.

Yu and Erickson also consider the event a reunion. Throughout Sunday morning they’d say hi to familiar swimmers from around the county. Erickson said, “We know everybody here. Between the two of us we can probably recognize …”

“… 60-70 percent of the swimmers,” Yu estimated.

As the summer slowly draws to a close and back-to-school shopping starts to rear its head at local stores, the county's top swimmers celebrated the end of another successful season at the league's All-Star Relay and Individual meets Saturday and Sunday July 29-30, 2006.

SUNDAY'S INDIVIDUAL All-Star meet served as the league's farewell to Josh Hafkin. A rising senior at Georgetown Prep and a lifelong Potomac Woods swimmer, Hafkin, now 18, is in his final summer of eligibility for the league.

For several years, there has been an extra buzz to the events in which Hafkin swims, especially in his signature event, the backstroke. Among the crowd of swimmers, their friends and their parents, there's a sense of anticipation that records are about to fall.

Alicia Watkins is the league's top 13-14 swimmer in the 50-meter butterfly, yet she’ll admit to being in awe of Hafkin. She and Hafkin wished each other good luck before their last races at All-Stars on Sunday. “He’s like an Olympian — I look up to him, and I hope to swim like him,” she said.

On Sunday, Hafkin didn't disappoint. He broke his own record for the 15-18 100-meter backstroke, with a 55.92-second finish that topped his 56.03 time from last year.

“That’s the kind of swimming we like to see,” said Daniel Lucenti of Potomac Glen. “He’s an incredible swimmer. … When he finished, everyone was clapping.”

“He started so strong he nearly pulled me in,” said Potomac Woods coach Jon Leong.

“Oh my God, it’s so exciting,” said Jenny Erickson of Potomac Glen. “I don’t know him personally, but I was so excited.”

“I wish I could swim like that,” said Drew Fisher, 15, of Country Glen. “He beat me by 10 seconds.”

When Hafkin competed in the individual medley, all eyes were on him again. “Look at that streamline,” said Country Glen’s Laura Eull, 18, as Hafkin swam the butterfly leg of the race.

“He makes it look so easy, but he tries so hard,” said Potomac Woods teammate Stephen Sakaris. “You really want to be just like that, and have the success that he has.”

HAFKIN HAD PLENTY of company among 18-year-old swimmers who capped many years of MCSL swimming at All-Stars. Laura Eull of Country Glen swam in her 10th and final All-Star meet on Sunday. “This one’s really meaningful, because I’m done. It’s always an honor,” she said.

Lucenti is a rising University of Maryland sophomore who finished his final season as a Potomac Glen swimmer. He came to cheer on his teammates from a pool he's been part for 10 years, soon after the pool opened. “It’s been great to grow up with Potomac Glen,” he said. “It makes me want to come back and coach next year.”

— Dasha Vinogradsky also reported for this article.

Nino Tranquill, 8, Regency Estates

“If I didn’t make All Stars, I’d be at the beach,” Nino Tranquill said. Vacation could wait, though. Nino swam an All-Star time in the 25-meter breaststroke at Regency’s regional meet on July 22, after which his older brother picked him up in celebration. The Tranquill family pushed back a trip to Dewey Beach for one day so Nino could swim in his first All Star meet to cap off his second official season on Regency’s swim team. It was a fun summer, Nino said — he was a big fan of pepperoni slices at the pizza parties and the team chants, especially “Ole.” When the All-Star meet was through, Nino knew what he wanted to do with the rest of the summer — “Go to the beach,” he said.

Colin Smyth, 8, Inverness Forest

Seeded No. 16 in the 25-meter freestyle, Colin Smyth shocked the county with a second-place time of 16.71 seconds at All-Stars, breaking a 15-year-old Inverness Forest record. “First my dad looked up at the time,” Colin said, “then [coach] Bryan told me I broke the record.”

Was it the new swimsuit or the new cap he swam with at All-Stars? “It shaved two seconds off his time,” joked his mother.

When school resumes in the fall, Colin will move on to his other favorite sport — football. Colin plays one position on offense and three different ones on defense. He’s a big fan of the Redskins, especially Santana Moss and Clinton Portis.

Minutes after breaking the Inverness Forest record set five years before he was born, Colin remained modest. When asked how long he thought his record would last, he said, “Maybe a year?”

Dorothy Yu, 14, and Jenny Erickson, 13, Potomac Glen

For Dorothy Yu and Jenny Erickson, qualifying for All-Stars has become an annual rite of summer. Each has competed in the meet for at least six consecutive years.

“It’s still exciting,” said Yu, a seven-year veteran of All-Stars.

“It’s hard when you age up,” said Erickson, who was in her sixth All-Star meet.

Potomac Glen is one of the younger pools in the Potomac area, and Yu and Erickson like being part of its growth. “We’ve been jumping divisions the entire time,” Yu said.

“We’ve all grown up as a family,” Erickson said. “Seriously, we have — she’s my sister.”

Yu is a rising sophomore at Churchill, where Erickson will be a freshman next year. “She’s going to be a big help to the Churchill team,” said Yu, who swam varsity as a freshman.

There’s one point where Yu and Erickson differ. Yu continues to practice swimming in the month following All-Stars, while Erickson takes a month off. “I don’t go near a pool in August,” she said. “When you swim for 11 months, it’s nice to take a break.”

Laura Eull, 18, Drew Fisher, 15, Kyle Hartman, 10, and Will Sherman, 7, Country Glen

Eull competed in her tenth All-Star meet on Sunday — in 11 seasons, she only missed qualifying once, when she was in the 13-14 age bracket. She graduated from Holy Cross last spring, and will attend Lehigh University, where she will swim for the Mountain Hawks.

“This one’s really meaningful, because I’m done. It’s always an honor” to make All-Stars, she said. When asked about thing she’ll miss about swimming at Country Glen, she pointed to her coaches and teammates as they hooted in support of the swimmers. “Definitely the camaraderie, and all the crazy yells that we do,” she said.

Drew Fisher began Sunday morning in Rockville, and planned to finish the day in California, where his brother Kevin, 22, was competing in the national championships. His favorite part of being a Country Glen swimmer is the day-to-day fun at the pool. “Just hanging out at the pool,” he said. “Everyone’s always there, and everyone likes to play ‘Beaver in the Well.’”

Laurence Bloch, 13, and Alicia Watkins, 14, Regency Estates

Some things don’t change at Regency Estates — Bloch and Watkins have each competed in at least four All-Star meets, and they were back again this year. But this summer they competed in Regency’s brand-new pool. Both Bloch and Watkins agreed that the new digs are awesome. Bloch said, “We have new slides and he have falling buckets … ”

“… and the deck is all clean,” Watkins added.

Bloch and Watkins both swam in the same three All-Star events — the 50-meter freestyle, the 50-meter butterfly and the 100-meter individual medley. Watkins lived up to her top seeding in the butterfly, with a first-place time of 30.91 seconds. She knew she’d won when she touched the wall — she manages to catch quick looks at her competitors when she swims. “I was very proud. I felt very happy that I was first,” she said. She’ll be a freshman at Churchill this fall, and looks forward to being on the varsity swim team.

Bloch is going into 9th grade at the French International School, and yes, it’s okay to bring up French soccer Zinedine Zedane’s notorious head-butt in the World Cup championship soccer match.

“Even though he did that, and I thought it was pretty stupid, I still think he’s awesome,” Bloch said. She can now laugh about it — her cell phone ringtone is a song about the incident (in French) — but she said her father, who was born in France, was devastated by the loss.

Both Regency swimmers are bound for the beach this month — Bloch for Ocean City, and Watkins for the Outer Banks, N.C.

Kaitlin Mills, 14, Ali Benjamin, 13, and Hannah Vistica, 14, Potomac Woods

“It was beast, and you can go ahead and quote me on that,” said Ali Benjamin, and indeed it was. Ali, Kaitlin Mills, Hannah Vistica and Caroline Kelly finished second in the 200-meter individual medley at Saturday’s relay All-Stars meet.

Mills, Benjamin and Visitica each qualified for the individual All-Star meet as well. Potomac Woods Jon Leong called Vistica “our resident breast-stroker. … She’s always been on the All-Star cusp.” She swam through the past winter, and the results showed. She qualified in the 50-meter breaststroke, but didn’t know it right away. “I got my [qualifying] time in the second meet, but I never really knew what the cut was,” she said.

Benjamin’s forte is the butterfly, where she was seeded No. 4, and Mills’ is the backstroke, although she was also in the butterfly and individual medley at individual All-Stars.

J.P. Perez, Jon Leong and Stephen Sakaris, Potomac Woods

Sakaris is going into his junior year at Wootton, where he swims varsity and helps organize optional practice sessions in the winter months. Still, he said, there’s something about swimming in the summer that can’t be beat. “You don’t have that cloud of school hanging over you,” he said. “You get all age groups, and the whole community is there for you.”

After All-Stars, Sakaris plans to practice for one more week, then relaxing until the school year starts. “It’s pretty much lounging around, occasionally staying in shape, but not really doing anything,” he said.