When Ellen Lynch walked into The Mary Louis Academy Athletic Director Joe Lewinger’s office four years ago, she didn’t know what she was getting into. A collegiate swimmer at Pace University, Lynch was given the opportunity to coach the Hilltoppers swim team.
“My first year was very intimidating, but it’s a piece of cake now," the Mary Louis alum said with a laugh.
Despite not having its own pool and having to rent three different facilities to get the necessary practice time, Mary Louis continually churns out more swimmers who qualify for the New York State Championships than any other CHSAA school in the city.
“We might not have the best facilities, the best pool, but we definitely work really hard and it shows,” Mary Louis senior Kelly Mulligan said.
This year is no different. Five swimmers, Georgia Goldman, Tara Mulligan, Adrianna Martinez, Kelly Mulligan and Erika Winkler, left for Buffalo Thursday morning for the NYSPHSAA Girls Swimming & Diving Championships at Erie Community College.
Last year, seven out of 40 swimmers from the NSGCHSAA were from Mary Louis. With more difficult qualifying times, half that amount from the league qualified. Yet, the Hilltoppers are still strongly represented.
“That just made us work harder,” Martinez said of the quicker qualifying times.
So what’s the secret for the all-girls school in Jamaica Estates? Most of the girls point toward tremendous team camaraderie.
“We have such a close bond,” Tara Mulligan said. “I’ve never experienced that on any other team. I do my best times because I want to make them proud. It pushes me to make them happy.”
Added Kelly Mulligan (no relation): “I definitely think we have a good work ethic here, we practice hard and we’re all a team. When you have the support of a team, you can always do better – good coaching, good practice, good results.”
Winkler credits Lynch for providing the backbone for the team’s success.
“Ellen’s a really good coach,” Winkler said. “She definitely helps the team get pumped up before meets and that really helps all of us swim faster. She definitely focuses on technique.”
Leading the way for the Hilltoppers, who finished third in the NSGCHSAA finals over the weekend, is Tara Mulligan. The junior is heading upstate for a third consecutive year, competing in the 50-yard free, the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard medley relay with Goldman, Martinez and Kelly Mulligan.
Tara Mulligan is the NSGCHSAA champion and league record holder in the 50-yard freestyle (24.31) and 100-yard breaststroke (1:06.68) and was named the MVP of the CHSAA Girls Swimming Championship at the Nassau Aquatic Center.
“I’m really excited because States is one my favorite times of the year,” she said. “The past two years have been amazing, so much fun getting to know the other girls. I’m so glad the other girls on my team are going.”
For Goldman, a sophomore who broke the school record in the 50-yard backstroke, this is her first time competing in the States.
“A lot of girls who are on the Mary Louis swim team also swim on my travel team with me so they always encouraged me to come to Mary Louis, that it’s a great school, a great swim team,” she said. “I’m really happy I decided to go there.”
Martinez, a senior, is also making her first trip.
“It shows what I’ve done throughout the four years and how much I’ve worked to accomplish,” she said.
Kelly Mulligan, who holds six out of 14 Mary Louis school records, will be making her third trip. She credits the strong competitive nature of the team for pushing her this year.
“We’re always trying to one-up each other,” she said. “But it’s a healthy thing.”
Winkler qualified for the competition last year in the 500-yard individual and will go this year as an alternate for the medley relay. She is the team captain, holds the school record in the 200-yard free and earned a partial scholarship to Division I Loyola (Md.), a rare accomplishment for a city swimmer.
She will follow the footsteps of her sister, Caitlin Winkler, a senior on the Greyhounds swim team and former Archbishop Molloy standout.
“It’s been my dream school since I went to look at it with my sister four years ago. It was really exciting when I got my letter,” said Erika, who was recruited as a distance freestyler and a backstroker and chose Loyola over Providence, Fairfield and Manhattan. “My recruiting trip just confirmed how much I wanted to go there.”
Winkler, Martinez and Kelly Mulligan are part of Lynch’s first class when she was hired four years ago, which has made this entire year emotional, but satisfying.
“This whole season has been bittersweet,” Lynch said. “It’s been an awesome season and an awesome four years and I’m so happy that three of them get to share the final experience of States.”
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