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Belchertown boys swim team wins 400 free relay, places second at West/Central Championships



SPRINGFIELD — Christopher Chumbley pounded his left foot against the Lane 3 starting block in a quick rhythm.

Matt Stelmokas charged toward him on the last length of his leg in the 400-yard freestyle relay. The Art Linkletter Natatorium capacity crowd thundered for the final event of Sunday’s West/Central Swimming & Diving Championships.

“All the hype was up, and I had to express it some way besides in the pool,” Chumbley said.

When he finally hit the water, that energy emerged. Chumbley exploded through his first 50 in 22.22 seconds and completed his anchor leg in 47.35. Belchertown won the race with the fastest time in western Massachusetts history: 3:13.79. Nathan Dragon and Aidan Endress swam the first two legs.

“We knew going in we had a chance at the western Mass. record, and we got it, which was good,” Chumbley said.

The relay proved historic in another way: it clinched a second-place finish for the Orioles with 231.5 points. Minnechaug claimed the team title with 286 points.

Belchertown received a sectional finalist trophy for the first time in program history and celebrated raising it and a championship belt on top of the podium.

“It’s giant,” Chumbley said. “Never would I have imagined in my high school career we would have a top-two at Western Mass. I’m sad I can’t stay one more year because I think they’re gonna win it next year.”

Belchertown hovered around the top of the standings for most of the meet. The Orioles opened with a statement, holding off the Falcons in the 200 medley relay. Stelmokas kept Brian Douglass at bay on the freestyle leg and touched the wall first in 1:38.87. Chumbley, Dragon and Endress also were on the medley team.

“Matt is a very underrated swimmer. When we need him, he comes in clutch,” Chumbley said. “Matt’s that guy you want on the relay.”

Dragon and Stelmokas stacked the distance freestyle podiums, as well. They went 2-3 in both the 200 and the 500. The second in the 500 was nearly a first for Dragon, though.

He trailed Minnechaug’s Chase Kontodiakos for the early section of the race but pulled ahead of him during the 13th lap. They made the final turn nearly even, and Kontodiakos out-sprinted him for the title, winning by .15 seconds. Dragon finished the 500 in 4:36.63 and the 200 in 1:39.38.

Stelmokas went 1:40.7 in the 200 and 4:45.78 in the 500. Evan Harrington was sixth in both the 200 (1:53.49) and 500 (5:06.82). He swam in the second heat of the 500 rather than the third, faster-seeded heat.

“We dominated the 200 and the 500 as a team,” Belchertown coach Matt Quinney said. “I think we had the strongest core of all the teams here, we just didn’t have the depth and the numbers.”

Chumbley took second in the 100 backstroke (53.3) and third in the 100 butterfly (51.44).

Endress added an eighth-place finish in the 200 individual medley (2:07.52).

The Orioles fell to fourth after the 100 backstroke, the meet’s penultimate event. But relays are worth twice the points as individual events, so the closing 400 relay boosted them past Nashoba (third, 228) and Longmeadow (fourth, 219½) to the runner-up position.

“Highest place we’ve ever gotten. After the backstroke, I was a little nervous, but I knew as long as the (400 free relay) went well, we’d be OK,” Quinney said.

Amherst placed ninth (99 points), buoyed by two dominant showings from senior Noah Labich. He blew away the field in the 200 IM, hitting the wall in 1:51.92, nearly 10 seconds faster than his closest competitor. It also shaved almost six seconds off his seed time.

“I’m not super good at breaststroke, so my plan is always to go out as hard as I can the first 100,” Labich said.

He nearly set a state record in the 100 butterfly. Labich won in 48.97 seconds, which earned him All-American consideration. The state record is 48.93 seconds set by St. John’s Prep’s Oliver Zmetrovich in 2018.

“(The record) wasn’t the goal, I just wanted to race as fast as I can, and that was the result,” Labich said. “I missed it, but I’m happy with that swim. Going that fast with all these little things I could do better, it sets me up in a good place for states.”

They two sectional titles were the first of Labich’s high school career. He raced for the Hurricanes as a freshman before taking two years off to focus on USA Swimming and ultimately returning for his senior season.

He also anchored Amherst’s 400 freestyle relay that finished fifth (3:28.30) with Evander Maradiaga, Eric Lian and Callum McDonald. The Hurricanes’ 200 medley relay (Labich, Alvin Li, Lian and Richard Guerron) placed seventh (1:46.59).

“I’ve changed a lot as a swimmer since freshman year. I came back this year looking to have some fun, swim as fast as I could, maybe break a few records,” Labich said. “I wanted to come back and see what I could do here.”

Northampton junior Oliver Schalet also claimed his first sectional championship after outpacing the field in the 100 breaststroke. He closed with a strong back half and finished in 59.20 seconds.

“The breaststroke is something that took off for me this season,” Schalet said.

Schalet won a state championship as a sophomore but hadn’t broken through at the sectional level yet. The West/Central meet combines Division 1 and Division 2 teams, while at the state level there are separate divisional championships.

“It was almost more enjoyable (winning at West/Central) because states is this bigger platform, bigger championship meet, but Western Mass. I go around and I know half the faces here,” Schalet said. “To be able to compete with the people I know is a better feeling.”

He added a third in the 50 freestyle after a wild championship heat. Schalet was seeded second but finished third in 21.81 seconds. Kontodiakos won at 21.35. Just .56 seconds separated the top-five finishers.

“That heat was stacked,” Schalet said. “It was crazy.”

The Blue Devils tied for 17th with 40 points.

Easthampton senior Chris Vayda placed 13th in the 500 (5:28.56) and 17th in the 200 IM (2:15.46). He was the only Eagles swimmer and scored four points.

South Hadley freshman Brady Pete was 23rd in the 100 backstroke (1:06.96).

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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