By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
When Julieyanna Parker lifted herself from the pool following her leg in the 400 freestyle relay, it was the final time that the senior would swim for the Hillsborough High School team.
It also marked the 12th straight and final season that a Parker has represented the Raiders in the pool.
“I’m just proud of her,” said Raiders head coach Todd Sudol. “She’s an outstanding leader. If I could have a 13th year with a Parker, I’d do it in a second.
“She’s been a complete joy to coach. She always was willing to listen. As talented as she was and with all her abilities, she was always willing to listen. She was also coachable. She was always a good sport about it. She carried herself well. She was always mature about racing. She’s one of those special athletes you have that handles herself the right way.”
Parker enjoyed the storybook ending that seemed perfectly written. Slowed at the beginning of the year after a bout with mononucleosis, Parker worked her way back to win at the Skyland Conference and Somerset County meets, helped the Raider girls win the sectional title and reach their first state final and then capped it with her third straight win in the 100-yard butterfly at the Meet of Champions at Gloucester Tech on Sunday.
“It was honestly an amazing feeling,” Parker said after winning in 55.30 seconds. “I had my coaches and entire team behind my back supporting me. I was nervous. I knew there were a lot of good, fast swimmers. I was hoping for the best.”
Parker reached deep inside to get herself psyched up for her final individual race. She came into the MOC with the ninth fastest time in the fly, then was the third fastest qualifier in the preliminaries to set the stage for her historic win.
“I was definitely a little nervous,” Parker said. “I was reading the papers. They said I was ninth but was still the favorite. I made myself angry. I was so determined.”
She followed her race strategy perfectly. She let a fast starter go ahead, then slowly brought her back. She was sitting in third just before the final turn when she made her move to get the job done, as Sudol is fond of saying.
“She’s just a competitor,” he said. “I’ve learned over the 12 years of coaching the Parker siblings that you can never count them out. They are competitors to the end. Even if it looks like the cards are stacked against them or it’s going to be a tough challenge, they always rise to the occasion. I had a lot of confidence in her that she could do it. It’s a tough balance. As a coach, you don’t want to put too much pressure on her.”
Parker had already felt the strain of returning from her illness. She felt fortunate to have been sick early in the season and have time to recover. She was at her best when she needed to be.
“I definitely took me a while to bounce back,” she said. “In Skylands, I wasn’t at my absolute best. I was still recovering from having mono. Going into MOCs, I felt a lot better, a lot more confident than previous meets. The meets to come, I’ll definitely be ready for those.”
The University of San Diego-bound Parker still has several club meets ahead of her with Somerset Valley YMCA, but she will hold special her time representing the Raiders. She was a part of six winning relays at the MOC during her career.
“I love high school swimming because it taught me a sense of pride to be able to represent my own school and have amazing teammates behind my back that are basically my family,” Parker said. “That was a great way to learn how to work as a team, work as a family. I’ll move on to college and do the same thing. Swimming for high school is a lot different than swimming for club. You get to represent your school and you have the school colors and it’s like school pride.
“We made history by making it as far as we did,” she added. “It made me happy that I was able to do it with such an amazing team by my side all the way through it.”
The Raiders again enjoyed a strong finish to the season as a team at the MOC. Alexandra Temple, Megan Bull, Parker and Haley Tevnan placed third in the 200 medley relay. The same quartet was fourth in the 200 free relay. Temple, Bull, Stephanie Mauer and Parker were third in the 400 free relay. Bull placed second in the 200 individual medley. Temple took fourth in the 100 backstroke.
“Overall, we swam amazing,” Parker said. “I was hoping for that sweep of the relays like freshman year. We still did best times. We had one girl from every grade on them. It was great to see how each person has progressed through the years, and welcoming that new freshman to the relay was great.”
For the Hillsborough boys, Sam Hendrix was third in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 free. The 200 free relay of Joshua Franco, Montclair State-bound Kevin Gibson, Matt Sanders and the University of Kentucky-bound Hendrix was second on a meet director’s ruling. The same four were second in the 400 free relay but that finish came without controversy.
“Those were the best times of the season,” Sudol said. “It came down to the touch. We thought Sam touched him out, but he followed what was listed in the rules. He thought it was the call to make. There was a discrepancy of 0.3 between the touch pad and back-up timers and then it’s the race director’s call.
“The guys swam great. It was a great race and it came down to the end and it’s unfortunate it didn’t work out for them this time.”
With the end of the season, Hillsborough bids farewell to another banner crop of seniors that helped to raise the standards of the program. There was no letdown this year, just reloading with both the boys and girls winning sectional titles in the same year for the first time.
“As a team overall, we’re very strong and very determined,” Parker said. “I wasn’t surprised we made it as far as we did. I was happy the boys and girls won sectional titles. We were close freshman year and to make it that far senior year was icing on the cake.”
HILLSBOROUGH: Parker family era in pool comes to an end
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group