This past weekend’s Suffolk County girls swimming championships were preceded by a poker game. Well, not an actual poker game, but something akin to a poker game.
The swimmers, permitted to compete in no more than two events at the meet, kept their cards close to the vest, being careful not to show their hand. In other words, they weren’t advertising what events they would compete in, believing that would maximize their chances of winning.
“It’s like a big secret,” said Emily Herr, 13, of Wading River. “No one really tells each other what they’re swimming because they want to win.”
Herr did just that. She came up a winner.
Herr, an eighth-grader at Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham, finished first in the 100-yard freestyle at Stony Brook University for her first county championship. Her time was 51.94 seconds. In addition, Herr took second in the 200 freestyle in 1:52.55 Both times were personal records and she was named All-Long Island in both events.
“I was excited,” she said. “I felt strong, powerful and I was definitely prepared.”
Although Herr believes she may be best in the butterfly events, she sensed her greatest chances for victory came in the two events she entered.
By the time Herr took her position for the start of the 100 freestyle final, she had already been runner-up in the 200 freestyle, finishing behind Walt Whitman sophomore Kathryn Montefusco (1:52.10). The pressure was on. Herr knew it was her last chance to secure a county title at the meet.
“I really wanted to be a county champion,” she said.
Less than a minute later, she was. By the time she touched the wall at the finish, she was both exhausted and exhilarated.
The second-place finisher was Hauppauge-Smithtown freshman Sofia Burns in 54.17.
Another Albert G. Prodell eighth-grader, Sabrina Lisica, was 15th in the 100 breaststroke (1:14.59) and 20th in the 200 individual medley (2:27.23).
In November of 2019, Herr competed in the state meet as a seventh-grader. She swam in the 100 butterfly preliminaries, posting a time of 1:00.15. Because of the pandemic, the state meet for this school year has been canceled. The county meet marked the end of an odd school season in which Herr competed in only four meets, including three in one week, before the counties.
Like Lisica, Herr is a member of the Three Village Swim Club. In fact, this is her seventh year in the club, for which she swims 11 1/2 months out of the year. Herr said she trains 10 to 12 hours a week and goes to a gym twice a week.
She said, “I found a connection with [swimming] when I was 6 years old, and I knew if I worked hard I could really succeed.”
In hindsight, that wasn’t much of a gamble.