Being named the Most Outstanding Swimmer of the Mercer County Championship was a surprise and a bonus for Kurt Von Autenried. The West Windsor-Plainsboro High South senior was thrilled just to help the Pirate boys’ swim team finally reclaim the county crown, its first in 11 years, on Feb. 4.
“It certainly feels good,” said Von Autenried, a captain for the Pirates. “Obviously we came up short on expectations the past couple years, so in a sense it’s a bit of closure to finally close in on that elusive title.”
Von Autenried won the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle and out-touched the Notre Dame anchor for a split-second win in the 200 free relay to give the Pirates a boost on their way to a 275-242 margin of victory over the runner-up and defending champion Irish.
The county title follows a 13-0 regular season. WW-P South had done well in previous regular seasons as well, but it was Notre Dame that won the county championship in each of the last two years. This year, the Pirates depth and front-end swimmers combined for the victory.
“I know we set high expectations last year and the boys were disappointed in coming in second,” said second-year Pirates head coach Jessica Turner. “A large group of our team is the senior class and they’ll be graduating this year. This is it for them. They wanted to end with a bang, and they definitely did that.”
The Pirates opened the MCT with Joshua Huang, Michael Krigeris, Michael Zhong and Manish Rachamallu winning the 200 medley relay as expected, even though they came in seeded second after the preliminaries the night before.
The team got a boost when Kyle Dixon-Anderson surged from 12th place to eighth place in the B final, “which was a phenomenal swim for him,” Von Autenried said.
Huang won the 200 individual medley and Zhong was fourth before Von Autenried and Rachamallu finished 1-3 in the 50 free. Von Autenried’s 24.31 clocking was more than a half-second ahead of runner-up Alex Petruso of Princeton High.
After the break, Aleksandr Simonelli and Zhong placed third and sixth respectively for significant points in the 100 butterfly. In the 100 free, Von Autenried won by nearly a second in 53.29 seconds.
“It was a tougher race mentally because I knew I had some real quick guys next to me,” Von Autenried said. “I wasn’t the first seed. I think that threw me off a bit mentally. I was really nervous behind the block, to be completely honest. The results showed how I could perform mentally and physically for that race.”
Krigeris was fourth in the 400 free, but Notre Dame bit into the WW-P South lead by placing first, fifth and sixth in the race.
“We knew in the beginning we had to go out and get a lead especially for their 400 freestyle,” Turner said. “If we didn’t get out to a lead in the beginning, it was going to be hard to catch up.”
It was a calculated gamble to not swim Von Autenried in the fly stroke for the medley relay and instead to use him in the 200 free relay. That paid off when he helped the Pirates edge Notre Dame by 35-hundredths of a second.
The anchor leg returned the momentum to the Pirates, and likely wrapped up the Most Outstanding Swimmer award for Von Autenried, who will swim at Stevens Institute of Technology next year.
The Pirates had plenty of confidence in the final two individual events, and Huang came through with his second win of the meet when he took the 100 backstroke in 59.84 seconds, and Rachamallu finished strong for a win in the 100 breaststroke in 1:06.59. That gave WW-P South enough of an edge to focus just on safely starting each leg of the final event, the 400 free relay, which Von Autenried anchored to a fourth-place finish to seal the team title.
The Pirates are hoping to build off their county title and unbeaten regular season in the state tournament. WW-P South earned the No. 1 seed and a double bye to the semifinals of the Central Jersey, Public B semifinals, which were set to begin on Feb. 13. Defending champion Moorestown, which stopped WW-P South last year, is the No. 2 seed. The final is set for Feb. 16 at Neptune.
“We’re really going to go for it on this sectional run,” Von Autenried said. “I saw a different side of people after the meet was over last year. I saw swimmers that were very disappointed saying, I’m ready to come back for next year even stronger. I think this year has been about redeeming what happened last year. I think we’ve done more than that given the progress we’ve made.”