Sometimes, when he's in a very competitive race, Mace Long will try to envision something else in front of him to block out the pressure and the pain.
"Video games, for example. Or movies," Long said.
Trailing Connor Hallinan when he dove in for the final leg of the four-by-400-yard relay, Long imagined the climactic charge at the end of the second installment of the "Lord of the Rings" series, "The Two Towers." Then he went out and grabbed his own precious ring.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Hollidaysburg’s Max Gehringer competes in the boys 200 individual medley against Altoona?Wednesday.
Long, who had set a pool record a few minutes earlier in the 100 backstroke, caught up and overtook the Altoona swimmer with a little more than a length to go to lift Hollidaysburg to an exhilarating 86-84 win before a large crown in a duel of unbeaten boys teams at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse on Wednesday night.
The Lady Tigers raised their record to 8-0 as well by virtue of a 123-46 victory.
"It's good when you win, but they're a good opponent," Long said. "They put up a really good fight."
So good, in fact, that the Golden Tigers needed to win eight of 11 events and have Emerson Trimble hold off Dima Kunstbeck down the stretch for third place in the 400 free relay to prevail in the dual meet - had Altoona just finished second and third in the final event, the Mountain Lions would have come out on top.
"It comes down to a decision you have to make in a split second about what you're going to do down at the end. I felt that we could have won, and I felt that we could have taken third the way I had it set up. We just didn't have quite enough," Altoona coach Andy Smearman said.
"That was a tight meet. Some boys stepped up in the backstroke, so it was great to get points there, and the boys really stepped up in the relays," Hollidaysburg coach Deb Solomon said. "Probably, these guys will win a banner now [as Central Western Alleghenies Aquatic Conference champions]."
Long was a big part of that. He led off the winning 200 medley relay and took first by almost 5 seconds in the 100 butterfly before competing in the backstroke. He completed the backstroke in 54.10 seconds, breaking the pool mark of 54.41 set by Smearman's brother, Adam, 13 years ago.
Long couldn't decide afterwards which was the sweeter moment, the record or the final relay.
"That's hard to determine," Long said. "You want to set the record and get faster each season, but also you want to help the team."
Every point mattered, and the Golden Tigers got more key tallies in the 200 freestyle when Brian Flynn edged Kyle Heasley by a hundredth of a second. Flynn had been trying hard to break the 2-minute barrier in the event, and he did it with a time of 1:59.62.
"It was really good competition. Kyle is just an amazing swimmer. He dropped like 4 seconds. I can't wait to see him at districts. That's the best competition I had all year," Flynn said. "I saw him by me a couple of times, and I just tried to stay ahead of him. It ended up being crazy. That was a big push.
"There isn't a better feeling. We lost all those seniors [from last year]. To be able to do this is awesome."
Heasley bounced back from the close loss in the 200 free to edge Flynn in the 500 freestyle by a little more than a second. The two were neck and neck until the final laps.
"The fans were great. I really like this type of atmosphere. I love to swim in front of a big crowd. Unfortunately, we didn't win," Heasley said. "Just being able to PR in the 200 and coming back to be able to win the 500 was great. That gave us some hope coming to the end."
Long's brother, Colter, got the Tigers first-place points in the 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke, while Max Gehringer won the 200 IM. Hallinan won the 100 freestyle for Altoona, which then went out in front when it took first and third in the 200 freestyle.
The Lions dipped to 8-1.
"I would've loved to have come out with a win here, but, for my kids to perform as well as they did - I had so many personal-bests in the meet - I can't complain," Smearman said.
Meghan Grassadonia (200 IM, 100 breaststroke) and Cassidy Saleme (100 free, 100 back) keyed the Lady Tigers to their eighth win in as many dual meets. Hollidaysburg won all 11 girls events.
"The girls swam really well tonight," Solomon said. "We had a number of girls swim personal-bests and qualify for districts in events they had not qualified in yet."
The meet attracted a large, energetic crowd that got plenty of entertainment for their buck.
"I think swimming is on the rise. We've had nice crowds all season," Smearman said. "People are getting interested in it, even people that might not necessarily have kids that are swimming who just want to come and watch. It's gaining popularity, and, if you see a meet like this, you can't help but be enthusiastic."
HOLLIDAYSBURG 86, ALTOONA 84
200 medley relay: 1, Hollidaysburg (M. Long, C. Long, Gehringer, Mauk), 1:45.49; 2, Altoona, 1:52.14; 3, Hollidaysburg, 2:08.80. 200 freestyle: 1, Flynn, H, 1:59.62; 2, Heasley A, 1:59.63; 3, Marasco, A, 2:19.46. 200 IM: 1, Gehringer, H, 2:19.31; 2, Marasco, A, 2:25.89; 3, Fink, A, 2:29.87; 50 freestyle: 1, C. Long, H, 22.79; 2, Betar, A, 23.96; 3, Hallinan, A, 24.18; 100 butterfly: 1, M. Long, H, 53.29; 2, Cummings, A, 58.03; 3, Hanlin, A, 1:11.31; 100 freestyle: 1, Hallinan, A, 54.19; 2, Betar, A, 55.09; 3, Marasco, A, 1:00.52. 500 freestyle: 1, Heasley, A, 5:30.32; 2, Flynn, H, 5:31.5; 3, Gehringer, H, 5:40.70; 200 free relay: 1, Altoona (Betar, Hallinan, Hanlin, Cummings), 1:36.05; 2, Hollidaysburg, 1:39.48; 3, Altoona, 1:49.69. 100 backstroke: 1, M. Long, H, 54.10 (new pool record); 2, Cummings, A, 1:01.52; 3, Black, H, 1:15.84. 100 breaststroke: 1, C. Long, H, 1:03.99 2, Fink, A, 1:14.75; 3, Settinio, A, 1:15.76. 400 free relay: 1, Hollidaysburg (Flynn, Dinges, Gehringer, M. Long) 3:36.99; 2, Altoona, 3:39.00; 3, Hollidaysburg, 4:07.81.
Team records: Hollidaysburg (8-0); Altoona (8-1).
HOLLIDAYSBURG 123, ALTOONA 46
200 medley relay: 1, Hollidaysburg (Keefer, M. Grassadonia, Holliday, M. Supp), 2:03.62; 2, Hollidaysburg, 2:09.09; 3, Altoona, 2:16.92. 200 freestyle: 1, Gorman, H, 2:18.75; 2, Cummings, A, 2:23.97; 3, McKeirnan, H, 2:25.35. 200 IM: 1, M. Grassadonia, H, 2:40.58; 2, Landry, H, 2:45.19; 3, Stoudnour, A, 2:56.71. 50 freestyle: 1, Brown, H, 27.19; 2, Geist, A, 27.70; 3, Keefer, H, 27.87; 100 butterfly: 1, Holliday, H, 1:14.51; 2, R. Grassadonia, H, 1:22.94; 3, Bradley, A, 1:25.15. 100 freestyle: 1, Saleme, H, 59.60; 2, Brown, H, 1:00.96; 3, Geist, A, 1:02.82. 500 freestyle: 1, M. Supp, H, 5:53.04; 2, Nagle, H, 6:02.93; 3, Landry, H, 6:20.11. 200 free relay: 1, Hollidaysburg (Brown, M. Supp, Holliday, Keefer, 1:50.57); 2, Hollidaysburg, 1:56.22; 3, Altoona, 1:57.48. 100 backstroke: 1, Saleme, H, 1:10.47; 2, McKeirnan, H, 1:12.92; 3, Stoudnour, A, 1:18.78. 100 breaststroke: 1, M. Grassadonia, H, 1:17.80; 2, Noal, H, 1:18.36; 3, Sohmer, A, 1:26.06. 400 free relay: 1, Hollidaysburg (Holliday, Brown, Saleme, M. Supp), 4:11.73; 2, Altoona, 4:24.42; 3, Hollidaysburg, 4:28.96.
Team records: Hollidaysburg (8-0); Altoona (5-4).