Steinert’s Chelsea Ackerson, and Nottingham Nikita Kouznetsova with their gift cards, photo collage and Fish4scores.com T-Shirts from Rossi’s Bar and Grill. Photo by Michael A. Sabo.
By Rich Fisher
The Mercer County Girls Swimming Championships proved to be a coming out party for Notre Dame, which won its first MCT team title under legendary coach Henry DeSandre.
But there was an interesting and entertaining Hamilton Township sub plot during the day, which turned out to be pretty nice.
Steinert’s Chelsea Ackerson, swimming in her final MCT, was getting her last chance to win county gold, while Nottingham junior Nikita Kouznetsova was trying to overcome several weeks of little training due to health issues.
But it worked out for all involved, as Ackerson took first in the 400 freestyle in 4:31.83 while finishing second in the 100 backstroke to none other than Kouznetsova. The Northstar swam a 1:05.91 while the Spartan clocked a 1:07.74. Kouznetsova also took second in the 50 free in 27.26.
For their big days, Chelsea Ackerson and Nikita Kouznetsova were the Fish4scores.com/Rossi’s Tavern Co-Athletes of the Week for the week running Jan. 28 to Feb. 5.
“We used to be on the same club team,” Ackerson said. “I was kind of expecting her to beat me but I knew it would be close. It was a good race. I was excited to be next to her. I was hoping it would kind of push me to go faster.
“I didn’t mind getting second to her because I know she’s fast. I think being next to her did help me, because I wasn’t feeling at my best. If she wasn’t next to me pushing me, I wouldn’t get the time that I did, and I may have even finished third.”
It turned out to be the only individual event Ackerson did not win all season, as she was undefeated in dual meets (not including relays) and had won her 400 race earlier in the day.
“I was hoping to win the 400,” she said. “I’ve been coming in second every year. I was really hoping to be able to win an event my senior year. Eliza (Bell of Hopewell) was next to me and was four seconds behind me in the prelim. She ended up being very close in the final (finishing less than a second behind). I was hoping for the best and it worked out.”
Ackerson had come close on numerous occasions, so to finally get atop of the stand was special.
“I was just so relieved,” she said. “It had been four years, I hadn’t won anything. I had come so close so many times. Just to win one in my last meet was a really great feeling.”
She would have been a two-time winner were it not for the excellent effort from Kouznetsova.
“She swam great,” Nottingham coach Andrew Parsons said. “They were some good times for her in a meter pool. She got hurt at the Steinert meet and had been out of the water for a few weeks. I was very happy with how she swam without training for a while. I knew she would place well, but I didn’t know she would place first.”
She did so by breaking her own school record against Ackerson.
“I love competing with Chelsea,” the Northstar said. “She’s a very strong swimmer and pushes me to work harder. I was definitely a little worried about going into the meet without having trained consistently beforehand, but the atmosphere and excitement of the meet seemed to build up my competitive energy and keep me going.”
It kept her going to the top of the podium for the first time.
“There were so many fast swimmers this season who made it a tough competition,” Nikita said. “So it was very exciting to win and get to stand up on the podium.”
Kouznetsova was prevented from a second gold medal by Notre Dame’s Maria Nitti, who won the 50 free in 26.75.
“I would have loved to win the 50 free, but Maria is one of the nicest people I know, and I’m so happy for her,” Kouznetsova said. “She’s a very fast swimmer. Going in, I knew it would be a tough race; I love the competition, though, and it motivated me to go faster than I did at prelims.”
And in the process it allowed her to break another school record she already held.
So in the end, the sub-plots made for a darn nice day for township swimmers.