STATE CHAMPIONS: Pam Pack boys best in North Carolina

Published 11:45 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS SMILES ALL AROUND: Washington’s boys are hardly able to contain their excitement as they post for a team picture with their championship banner, medals and plaque.

SMILES ALL AROUND: Washington’s boys are hardly able to contain their excitement as they post for a team picture with their championship banner, medals and plaque.

CARY — A championship has been brought back to Washington for the first time in almost 30 years. The Pam Pack boys swim team earned its first title in program history Saturday by claiming the 1-A/2-A North Carolina High School Athletic Association championship.

The evening was almost a carbon copy of a week prior when the boys claimed the school’s first-ever regional swimming championship. The Pam Pack had incredible showings in the last few events to shatter more Washington records and capture the title.

“I knew that if we could keep it close in the first half, have some strong swims and keep it close, we would give ourselves a chance in the end,” coach Spencer Pake said. “That’s what happened. It was the back half of that meet. We came back and came away with a state championship.”

The boys finished with 236.5 points and were trailed by Lincoln Charter (217.5) and Carrboro (210).

JOB WELL DONE: Eric Lovenberg (left) and Kevin Andrews shake hands after both competing for the 200-yard freestyle state championship.

Washington trailed then-leader Bishop McGuiness by nine points after taking third place in the 200-yard freestyle relay. The final three events were three of the team’s strongest — 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard freestyle relay.

“I think (the turning point) was the 200-yard freestyle relay,” Pake said. “I told the boys, ‘Listen, let’s comeback now. Let’s move up the ranks.’ And they went from fifth place to third place. We shattered so many school records today. I’m just so proud of these boys.”

The boys had top-seeded Kevin Andrews and Justin Clark contending for the 100-yard backstroke championship. Andrews won the event to be the school’s first male swimmer to bring home an individual championship. Emily Pfeiffer, now swimming for UNC-Chapel Hill, last captured individual titles in the 100-yard breaststroke in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s been pretty great. I’m proud of everybody and I’m sure everybody else is proud of the whole team,” Andrews said. “I was pretty confident. I wasn’t going to go easy by any means. I was going to go hard and get my best time. … (Winning a championship) has always been my goal in my high school career.”

SOME EXTRA GOLD: Kevin Andrews swims the 200-yard freestyle. He earned the 1-A/2-A state championship in the 100-yard backstroke, making him the first male swimmer in Washington history to earn an individual title.

Bishop McGuiness also had a pair of swimmers in the 100-yard backstroke, but didn’t have anyone in the 100-yard breaststroke. Eric Lovenberg placed third in the event to earn valuable points ahead of the final event.

Things were still tight at the top of the standings. Bishop McGuiness had a 10.5-point lead on Washington entering the final event: the 400-yard relay. Lincoln Charter and Carrboro were very much in the thick of things, too.

However, Bishop McGuiness didn’t have anyone poised to earn points in the final event. Washington needed a strong showing in this last relay, which was also a forte for Carrboro and Lincoln Charter, to pull away.

And they got just that. Justin Clark, Tony Lovenberg, Eric Lovenberg and Kevin Andrews finished third to pull away and cap off the championship feat.

“It’s amazing,” Eric Lovenberg said. “We’ve worked so hard for it all year. Everybody just came together as a team and it was a great meet.”

In the end, it was a complete team effort. Andrews was the only Pam Pack swimmer to finish first in an event. This group has worked tirelessly for years to become what they always believed to be the best group of swimmers in the state of North Carolina. Their efforts have been rewarded and they have been crowned as the top team in the state.

They didn’t do it without their share of adversity. A.J. Howard — who placed third in the 100-yard butterfly and helped Washington earn fourth in the 200-yard medley relay and third in the 200-yard freestyle relay — was working through medical issues stemming from either low blood sugar or dehydration. Athletic trainers were tending him to as his teammates finished off the push for the championship. They nearly had to call an ambulance.

PULLING THROUGH: A.J. Howard races to the finish of the 100-yard butterfly. His teammates pushed through in the final events as he was being tended to by athletic trainers.

Even with that in the backs of their minds, the boys pushed through and finished strong in the final relay. Howard’s strength came back and he used it to cheer his teammates on to victory.

“We were all worried about him,” Eric Lovenberg said. “Whenever someone goes down, we all worry about him. We’re just glad he’s alright.”

Eric Lovenberg was also one of two swimmers given an award for sportsmanship.

“I’m just shocked again. It’s an honor for me,” he said of the award.

Pam Pack faithful waited in the lobby of the Triangle Aquatic Center to applaud the boys as they left. It was a special moment for Washington athletics. The school has seen some formidable teams come through, but these boys ended the championship drought and showed exactly how strong swimming is in Washington.