It was the goal from day one of the 2021-22 season for the student-athletes on the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School girls swim team to reach the championship meet of the state sectional tournament and to win another crown.
The memory of winning a state sectional championship two years ago stayed in the minds of the Bulldogs throughout the coronavirus pandemic and during the 2020-21 season that was abbreviated due to COVID-19.
With the opportunity to have a full season in 2021-22 and to compete for a team title, the Bulldogs knew they had a chance to make their championship memories come to life again.
On Feb. 18, the Bulldogs won their second state sectional team championship in three years when they defeated Governor Livingston High School of Berkeley Heights, 95-75, in the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group C tournament at the Neptune Aquatic Center in Neptune.
“The girls remembered what it was like to win a championship before the pandemic started and wanted to do it again this year,” Coach Meghan Vaccarelli said. “We have girls who will compete for each other and who want their school’s team to be successful.”
The state sectional team championship capped a season of highlights during which the Bulldogs went 11-2 in dual meets. Three school records were broken during the season.
Senior Quinn Rinkus set a school record in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:05.29.
Freshman Annie Mee set a school record in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 57.99.
Rinkus and Mee teamed up with junior Kindra Pellettiere and senior Elizabeth Wright to set a school record in the 200-meter freestyle relay.
Rinkus helped the Bulldogs win the state sectional title in 2020. Her experience and leadership played a big role in the team’s success in 2022, Vaccarelli said.
“Quinn has been a really big part of our program,” the coach said. “She has contributed a lot to our success over the years.”
Mee eventually concluded her outstanding freshman campaign with a top 16 finish in the 200-meter freestyle at the NJSIAA Meet Champions.
“She is a very versatile swimmer,” Vaccarelli said of Mee. “I could always count on her to score points for us in any event she competed in.”
The Bulldogs performed well throughout the regular season against strong competition in the Shore Conference.
Rumson-Fair Haven placed second behind private school Trinity Hall of Tinton Falls in the Shore Conference A Central Division and earned the division’s public school crown.
The Bulldogs placed fourth as a team at the Monmouth County Championships and fourth as a team at the Shore Conference Championships.
Vaccarelli believes her swimmers’ performance during the regular season led to their success during the state sectional tournament.
“Everything we did throughout the year led us to winning a (sectional title),” she said.
The Bulldogs’ hard work and dedication came to fruition when they faced Governor Livingston in the state sectional championship meet for the third time in four years.
Rumson-Fair Haven’s swimmers delivered eight victories in 11 events during the meet.
Senior Sydney DiPietro won the 500-meter freestyle in 5:35.23 and she teamed up with Mee, Wright and senior Madelyn Marucci to win the 400-meter freestyle in 3:50.56.
DiPietro placed third in the 200-meter freestyle behind Wright, who placed second in the event.
The team of Mee, Rinkus, Pellettiere and Clancy McCann won the 200-meter medley relay in 1:52.26. DiPetro, Meghan Donovan, Lilee Martinelle and Carly Haldane scored important team points for the Bulldogs as they finished third in that race.
Rinkus, Pellettiere, McCann and Wright teamed up to win the 200-meter freestyle relay.
Rinkus had an outstanding day in the pool as she won the 100-meter freestyle and the 200-meter individual medley.
Mee won the 100-meter butterfly and Wright won the 50-meter freestyle to help lead the Bulldogs to the sectional championship.
“Everyone jumped into what needed to be done to help the win and did it well,” Vaccarelli said of the swimmers’ performance in the state sectional final.
During the 2021-22 season, Vaccarelli earned her 100th career victory as a coach on Jan. 19 in a meet against Shore Regional High School of West Long Branch.
Having coached the boys and the girls at Rumson-Fair Haven for 12 years, Vaccarelli said she is pleased to have enjoyed the success her teams have achieved.
Most importantly, the coach was pleased to celebrate her 100th career victory with this season’s swimmers after all they have been through the past two years in dealing with the pandemic.
“It felt really good to do it with this team and this group of seniors,” Vaccarelli said. “We have all been through a lot the past few years and we stayed together through it all.”
Following the Bulldogs’ victory over Governor Livingston in the state sectional championship meet, the 2021-22 season came to an end for the squad in the Group C state semifinal meet in a 93-77 loss to Mountain Lakes High School of Morris County.