Haigh’s record highlights Haverford School’s runner-up

PHLADELPHIA — For years, Bob Gavin’s Delaware County record in the 500 freestyle stood silent and unchallenged, his distance standard of 4 minutes, 32.24 seconds witnessing from its perch on countless record boards and heat sheets more meets in its 31-year reign than any individual possibly could.

Saturday morning, amidst the slog of sleepy prelim heats at the Eastern Interscholastic Championships, that record bit the dust, quietly and succinctly.

That swim, though, wasn’t even the highlight of Matt Haigh’s day.

The Haverford School junior bettered the record en route to silver in 4:29.49 in the finals, then swam a leg on the 400 free relay that finished fourth to clinch a second-place team finish, the best in team history.

The record wasn’t Haigh’s main objective — though it was in his mind — as he made it look easy in prelims, coasting to a time of 4:31.38, just .06 off the top seed.

“Just time-wise, I knew I could be under a 4:30,’ he said. “I knew this morning was just about getting to finals and not worrying about winning. The goal was under a 4:30.’

In the final, Haigh went out admittedly slow and surged late, but he fell just over a second shy of winner Andrew Abruzzo of Germantown Academy.

Finishing a place better was freshman Alex Boratto in the 100 backstroke thanks to his victorious time of 49.85 seconds. He entered as the top seed from the morning prelims and looked every bit of it, controlling the field to win comfortably.

“Going in as the top seed, I was pretty confident, especially being the only guy under 50,’ he said. “My approach was to take it out as fast as I can, and I knew that I wasn’t going to die because of all the training. I knew all the strength and endurance I had.’

All those individual highlights — including Charlie Ryan claiming fifth in the 100 back — were lovely. But they were secondary to the finale in the team competition.

Entering as the second seed in the 400 free relay final, the mantra from coach Sean Hansen was safe starts. That wise caution dropped the Fords to fourth place, the team of Ben Nelligan, Haigh, Boratto and Ryan still clocking in at 3:06.43 to improve on the Delco record they’d set in prelims. But it drove their points total up to 294, enough to resist the advance of Georgetown Prep (286) and Inter-Ac rival and reigning league champ Malvern Prep (268).

It’s an amazing progression for the Fords, who had no chance of catching team champ Peddie (455 points), though that was nowhere near the goal. Just four years ago, the Fords entered Easterns having never finished in the top six at Easterns. Since, they’ve added four trophies to their case, accomplishing this year’s haul with a young team showing tremendous growth.

The timing is fitting for a small but integral class of seniors, led by Nelligan, who helped lift that first cup what seems like a long time ago.

“There’s nothing else that compares to it,’ Nelligan said. “It’s awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career. … I couldn’t be happier with my team.”


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