Three-time defending champion McDonogh’s adds another MIAA A Conference swimming crown; Cherches claims two individual titles and anchors two relay triumphs for the Eagles

by Nelson Coffin

Unperturbed by a 93-77 loss to Loyola Blakefield in a dual meet just two weeks ago, McDonogh rose to the occasion in the MIAA A Conference championship meet on Saturday at Loyola University Maryland’s Mangione Aquatic Center.

The Eagles (539.5 points) prevailed over the runner-up Dons (488) to claim their fourth consecutive title and sixth overall crown.

Coach Scott Ward said that winning dual meets is a priority for the Eagles (5-1), despite falling to the Dons (5-0) in January.

“We always try to put out our best lineup,” Ward said. “We swim to win, and we talk about swimming hard through the season. We try not to go crazy (training hard) before meets. But we always seem to get up more for the championships.”

Gilman (252), Mount St. Joseph (214.5), Archbishop Spalding (147) and Calvert Hall College (141) followed the only two programs to have ever won league banners.

McDonogh continues to be a thorn in the side of Loyola’s dynasty, snapping the Dons’ 10-year reign in 2006 before landing in the middle of two of Loyola’s five-year runs from 2007-2017.

The Eagles finally earned back-to-back banners in 2018 and 2019 and then produced a three-peat in the last championship meet prior to the pandemic.

Saturday night’s win was fueled by an outstanding performance across the board, especially by Alan Cherches.

The versatile senior joined junior Will Cussamanio, sophomore Caiden Bowers and freshman Langston Duncan on the 200-yard medley relay (1:30.54) to edge Loyola seniors Cameron Shinnick, Ryan Branon and Ryan Clancy and junior Ryan Snyder (1:31.32).

Moreover, Cherches (1:48.10) was easily fast enough to win the 200 individual medley over Gilman senior Bryce Lloyd ((1:52.57) and Snyder (1:53.37) and then topped runner-up Snyder (56.99) in the 100 breaststroke by turning in a 54.11.

Churches said that he is proud of his accomplishments after a terrific debut as a freshman on the 2019 championship squad and then a so-so sophomore campaign on another title-winning group.

“I wasn’t improving the way I wanted to do,” the University of Pennsylvania commit said.

Switching to Ward’s Eagle Swim Team as a junior made for better results, Cherches added.

“I never imagined I’d be able to hit some times that I’ve been able to hit,” he said after setting two school and MIAA records while reaching All-American standards in all four of his races.

The Eagle standout then topped off the meet by anchoring the 400 freestyle relay (3:05.85) with senior Nathan Pittroff, junior Drew Greene and Bowers to beat Loyola’s Ryan Branon, Clancy and freshmen Harry Belbot and Alexander Dillon (3:07.59).

“We talked about having safe starts and then swimming hard once we were in the water,” Cherches said. “It was a great way to finish the meet.”

Other McDonogh winners include Duncan in the 50 free (21.59) over Mount St. Joseph junior Anthony Gurri (21.71), Bowers in the 100 butterfly (49.30) just ahead of Shinnick (49.41), and the 200 free relay (1:25.33) foursome of junior Connor Cashman, Pittroff, Duncan and Greene, who touched in ahead of Lloyd, juniors Brody Schrepfer and Timothy Brooks and freshman Jackson Heether (1:26.75).

Loyola, which won 20 of the first 22 championships, also had its share of stalwarts at the meet, most notably Ryan Branon, who produced a 1:40.46 to beat Pittroff (1:41.96) in the 200 free and a 45.51 to slip by Greene (46.35) in the 100 free.

Junior Patrick Branon kept it all in the family for the Dons by taking the 500 free (4:39.46) over junior Josh Cerny (4:43.35) and John Koebel (4:44.46).

Although Loyola’s 1-2-3 finish in the grueling event earned 53 points, McDonogh ably countered by filling the next four slots with senior Stuart Zhu, junior Dean Serino and sophomores Max Mislow and Alexander North to total 54 points.

“We were nervous about the 500,” Cherches said. “Loyola has some really fast guys, so I have to give a shoutout to Stuart for coming in fourth. That was a very key race.”

As is often the case, depth matters in championship swimming, and the Eagles’ provided enough of it to emerge with the victory.

Shinnick (50.22),was the other individual champ for the Dons, edging Bowers (50.62) in the 100 backstroke.

“Being healthy for the meet was big for us,” Ward said. “I think everybody else was healthy, too, but you never know when somebody is recovering from COVID (and not in top form.)”