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Mar 11, 2022

Colts Neck Swimmer Arabella Lee Smashes Shore Conference Championships Records

By Tim Morris

Time was not on Colts Neck High School swimmer Arabella Lee’s side. As a senior, the 2022 Monmouth County Swimming Championships would be her last opportunity to claim a county title. She was deprived of the chance last winter when the championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That gave this year’s championships added urgency.

“[Last time] gave me motivation. If I messed up, no redo,” Lee said. She didn’t have to worry about redoes, as the Cougar was one of the outstanding swimmers at Monmouth championships, winning the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke races. The fly, Lee remarked, is her best event, and she demonstrated it finishing two seconds up on the field, winning the race in 56.79. She was just under a second clear of the field at the halfway point and extended the lead over the last 50 yards.

The backstroke was a different story as she had faced a familiar swimmer, Tessa Bendokas from Saint John Vianney. Both swim for the Greater Monmouth YMCA club team, and Lee was well away of Bendokas’ talents.

“I knew it would be a good race,” Lee recalled. “I was able to out-touch her.”

Lee swam the last 50 yards in 29.92 to Bendokas’ 30.33, to come from behind and seal the victory, 58.92 to 59.24.

After claiming the elusive county championship, it was on to the next challenge, the Shore Conference Championships. Lee’s gold rush continued at the conference meet where she set meet record in both races. Lee had already won a SC title, capturing the 100 fly as a sophomore (she was third in the 100 back). Her goal at the SC coming off her county win was the meet record, 55.53 held by Shore Regional’s Helen Grossman.

Lee flew off the blocks, and the race was never in doubt nor was her breaking the record. The Cougar passed the first 50 in 25.80 and came home in 28.69, smashing the record by more than a second, touching the wall in 54.49. She beat the field by more than three seconds.

Lee’s rematch with Bendokas was not close the second time. She took the lead from the start and kept extending it. By the time she touched the wall, the Cougar was three seconds clear of her rival and had recorded another meet record. Her 54.84 bested the old mark of 55.87 set by Trinity Hall’s Caroline Gmelich. Lee said she employs the same strategy in both the butterfly and backstroke.

“I go out fast at the start, ease into it, and in the back half, you push as fast as you can,” she noted. In both races, one of the keys is the time underwater on her turns. It requires leg power to push off, which means work in the gym as well as the water.

Swimming has always been a perfect fit for Lee.

“I started swimming when I was young,” she pointed out. “It’s something I like to do. It felt natural to be in the water.”

Swimming may have come natural to the Cougar, but her rise to the top has been the result off all the work she has put in. She enjoys pushing herself to the limit in practice as much as she does competing. She swims repeat 200s to build stamina in workouts.

“I love a challenging set [of intervals]. The more you put in the more, you get out it,” she said. The reward for the extra work, the Cougar said, becomes evident later in championships and meet records.

Colts Neck Head Coach Dennis Bruck had high praise for his talented senior.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “She’s one of the most amazing people you could ever meet. She has been a quiet leader since her freshman year, and she is so respected by her teammates.”

As successful as she has been individually, Lee gets more satisfaction being part of a team, which is why 2020-21 was so tough for her. It wasn’t the loss of swimming for county championships but the loss companionship and solidarity with her teammates.

“Last year kept us apart,” she pointed out. “There was no socializing. Our time was limited. We had assigned lanes, and there was no mingling. I’m grateful we had the opportunity to compete, but it was a little sad. There was no team camaraderie, and that made me appreciate [this year] more.”

No one has appreciated being a part of Colts Neck swimming than Lee who has seen her team win the Shore Conference B North Division each year along with county, conference and Central Jersey championships.

“It has been a great experience,” she said of her Colts Neck years. “It’s a great team to be a part of. I cherish everything about it.”

Lee will take those memories with her and look to create new ones at her next stop, swimming for Villanova University.