For the past two years, Bel Air's swim team has left the county championship meet feeling nothing but frustration.
Twice, the Bobcats had beaten C. Milton Wright during the regular season only to lose the county title to their arch-rivals.
This week, that frustration turned to elation as the Bobcats finally knocked off the Mustangs, 613-594, to win their first county championship Thursday night at Magnolia Middle School.
John Carroll was third with 489 points while Edgewood, with 255 points, finished fourth.
"This is like the best graduation present I could want," saidBel Air's Gerry Warwick, a senior who experienced the two losses to C. Milton Wright.
"We knew this wouldn't be as much a physical fight as a mental fight. This is the first time everyone came together as a team."
Janus Shimp, the fourth-year coach of the Bobcats, saiddesire made all the difference. "We had our hearts in it. I just knew it was going to be a battle back and forth. They were seeded well and we were seeded well, but we wanted it and we went after it."
The battle for the team title was between the Bobcats and the Mustangs right from the start. No other team had the kind of depth to land twoswimmers consistently in the top six.
The Mustangs, who had lost to Bel Air, 292-218, during the regular season, used their depth in the relays to stay close. In five of the eight relays, C.M. Wright placed two teams in the top five.
However, the relays -- which are worth double the point value of individual races -- also were a key forBel Air. In addition to winning three of the six relays, the Bobcatsset county records in both the girls and boys 200-meter freestyle relays.
"We really needed to win those races," said Bel Air's Lisa Reed. "The 200 freestyle is new to the county this year, and it reallyhelped us a lot."
In the girls race, Reed, Jennifer Murach, Kim Hildebrandt and Shannon Skurdal shaved more than two seconds off the record they had set in December.
Their 1:47.26 beat the Edgewood team of Cindy Sotaski, Sally Paine, Jenni Blubaugh and Melissa Marzicola, who touched in 1:52.93.
In the boys race, Chris Holloway, KevinMurach, Gerry Warwick and Erik Jankowiak edged C.M. Wright's A team,1:36.52 to 1:36.72. Both came in under the old record of 1:38.13 setearlier this year by the Mustangs.
The Bobcats' other relay victory came in the boys 400-meter freestyle. Holloway, Kevin Lassahn, Jankowiak and Ryan Markoff won in 3:45.50.
John Carroll won the most gold medals, finishing first in 11 of the 24 events. Liz Harris, Sarah Hackler and Joanne Sonberg picked up four gold medals each, including two each for relays. Stewart Harris also won two individual eventsfor the Patriots.
The Bobcats also won six individual races. Holloway was the only double individual gold medalist for Bel Air. The sophomore won the 200 individual medley in 2:11.18 over teammate Kevin Murach, 2:14.30. He also took the 100 freestyle in 51.16 over C. Milton Wright's Justin Lassahn (54.24).
Sophomore Rob Flynn won the 200 freestyle in 1:56.37 over Warwick (1:59.71). In the 100 butterfly, Markoff finished in 1:00.04 to beat John Carroll's Gus Mundth (1:02.34).
In the girls 50 freestyle, senior Hildebrandt won the 50 freestyle in 25.61, edging Edgewood freshman Marzicola (26.16). Freshman Jennifer Murach won the 100 freestyle in 56.24 beating John Carroll's Michelle Kistner (58.38).
C.M. Wright picked up gold medals in three events. Peter Maranto won the boys diving with 84.25 points. Aberdeen's Larry Stonebreaker was second (68.95) and C.M. Wright's Josh Peters was third (61.10).
Ryan Stallings won the 100 breaststroke in1:06.77 over teammate Eric Fuka (1:10.71). The Mustangs' lone relay victory came in the boys 200 medley where Stallings, Lassahn, Steve Marcin and Matt Remsnyder finished in 1:49.30. Bel Air's Markoff, Warwick, Kevin Murach and Jeff Meyer took second in 1:51.54.
The most impressive individual performances of the night came from John Carroll's girls team, which won nine of 12 events.
Hackler, a freshman, threatened the record in the 200 freestyle finishing in 1:57.81. The 3-year-old record is 1:57.13. "I really wanted to get that record, because this is my last year here. We're moving to Georgia this summer," said Hackler, who has been swimming with the Edgewood Aquanauts since she was 7.
In addition, Hackler won the 100 butterfly in 1:01.51 over Edgewood's Marzicola (1:02.80).
Liz Harris, who set the county record in the 500 freestyle, lapped the field to win the gold in 5:11.16. North Harford's Carli Blische was second in 5:47.82. The sophomore also won the 200 individual medley in 2:16.48 over Bel Air's Jennifer Murach, 2:28.65.
Sonberg, a junior, won the 100 backstrokein 1:08.59 over Joppatowne freshman Erin Leib (1:09.11) and the 100 breaststroke in 1:17.26 over Bel Air's Skurdal (1:19.99).