When the final score, 105-81, was announced on the deck of the Keefe Tech pool late last month, the members of the Natick boys’ swimming & diving team erupted in celebration.
Finally, the Redhawks had defeated Bay State Conference rival Framingham.
A bit later, Natick coach Caitlyn Shaddock realized how momentous the triumph was for her program when Framingham coach Ron Pereira congratulated her on ending a 27-year drought.
“None of us knew,” said Shaddock. “[The team] just wanted to win for the sake of winning it.”
Her Redhawks had entered their final conference meet with 10 straight victories. But Framingham was a potential asterisk in what had been a perfect season.
“The guys were confident about Framingham, and I don’t really know why, to be honest,” said Shaddock. “They just knew it in their bones.”
The next day, Natick blew past BC High, 109-77, for a 12-0 regular season. In the Bay State Conference championship meet, the Redhawks unseated reigning champion Needham.
Now, Natick hopes to ride that wave of momentum into the South sectional championship meet on Sunday morning at MIT.
“We started as a ragtag bunch of 18,” said senior Kevin Zheng, a four-year varsity swimmer who recalls a 1-8 finish his freshman season.
“And now we’re at 41 [swimmers]. This is something we could only dream of.”
Natick’s meteoric rise started in November, when Shaddock met with her squad, one that included a pair of new additions, siblings Jordan and Ian Arnold.
“I told them all my hope was [a 10-2 record],” recalled the fourth-year coach, noting that Needham was coming off an unbeaten season and BC was a new opponent.
“And some of the seniors shouted, ‘Why not undefeated?’ ”
Ian Arnold, a sophomore, turned to Jordan, a senior, and echoed, “Why not undefeated?”
“I thought we had the talent, but I didn’t know about undefeated,” said Jordan Arnold.
The elder Arnold is competing for the high school program for the first time. Previously, since age 10, he was committed to Crimson Aquatics, his USA Swimming club team.
He had never stopped emailing Shaddock with his times, keeping his foot in the door, until he made the plunge this year.
“I knew from him what I was getting,” said Shaddock. “I had no idea what his brother could do.”
Ian initially swam for Crimson Aquatics, too, before switching over to Kingfish Swimming in Medfield. But after Natick finished 8-4 last winter, a handful of swimmers approached him to ask if he and Jordan wanted to join the program.
“And I said, ‘All right, let’s put all the marbles in the jar and go for it,’” recalled Arnold.
The brothers maxed out races wherever they could.
At the BSC championship, Jordan beat his own school records in the 200-yard individual medley (2:00.06) and 100 breaststroke (1:01.26). Ian broke his own record times in the 100 freestyle (48.38). And he anchored the school record-breaking 200- and 400 freestyle relays (1:31.56 and 3:19.77, respectively).
And though the Arnolds move seamlessly as a relay unit, their take on swimming as individuals is anything but similar.
Jordan maintains a calm and reserved measure in the 200 IM. Ian flies from the wall in a flurry of water, a suitable style for a swimmer competing in the 50- and 100 freestyles at sectionals and states.
“Our styles are a direct reflection of how we are,” said Jordan. “Ian’s more flamboyant and fiery in his personality because that’s a sprinter’s mentality.”
Zheng, who will compete in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly at the South sectional meet, said the Arnolds are “so committed and so dedicated . . . I can’t imagine our team winning this year without them.”
In its showdown against host Needham on Jan. 9, the Redhawks pulled out a 95-91 win on the final event, with the 400 freestyle relay quartet of senior Evan Walker, sophomore Ben Schmelmer, and the Arnold brothers.
“They didn’t just win,” said Shaddock. “They broke the [school] record by a full eight seconds. It was nuts.”
Jordan Arnold admits that he has given every ounce of his ability as a senior, not only for this season, but out of regret for missing the last three.
“It was hard choosing between the high school team and club,” he said.
“I don’t know what swimmer I’d be had I done it, but I’m humbled to honor the town I’ve grown up in, to make it be the best it can be.”
On a cathartic bus ride back from the conference championships at Brookline, in which Natick (337) eclipsed Needham (301), Framingham (233), Wellesley (212), Brookline (201), and Newton North (102), they took up a chorus of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”
“Obviously a lot of our upper-hand swimmers are seniors,” said Ian Arnold. “We’re going to motivate everyone to pick up where we just left off next year.”
But first, the Redhawks are targeting a top-five finish on Sunday. They have an entry in every event. And Ian Arnold is the top seed in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
“Needham wants us,” said Shaddock. “They haven’t said so, in so many words, but they want us.”Katherine Fominykh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.