Cards wrap up regular season with 96-74 victory

GRINNELL — Although the regular season came to an end for the Newton boys swim team Thursday night, it couldn't have ended on a better note.

The Cardinals won early and often, eventually defeating Grinnell 94-76 at the Charles Benson Bear '39 Recreation and Athletic Center on the campus of Grinnell College.

Senior Luke Norcross and freshman Austin Bunker each won three individual events, while fellow senior Matheus Pinto won all four of his, fell just short of a school record and completed the ridiculous feat of an undefeated season in individual dual meet races.

"We got a lot of good races in and got to mix things up a little bit," Norcross said. "Definitely need to give a shout out to Matheus for what he did in his individual races. That's a big deal for him and pretty exciting."

The Cardinals showed they meant business right away as they opened the night with a victory in the 200-yard freestyle medley. The team of Norcross, Pinto, Josh Smith and Jeff Fitzgerald won by a nearly 10-second margin with a time of 1 minute, 50.88 seconds. Bunker followed that up with a victory in the 200 free with a time of 1:58.60, then Pinto, Cody Maxwell and Fitzgerald went 1-2-3 in the 200 IM.

Norcross kept the win streak alive with a victory in the 50 free before Grinnell won its first race of the night in the 100 butterfly. Norcross then ended his individual night with a nearly three-second victory in the 100 free with a time of 52.87 to put the Cardinals in the driver's seat for the rest of the night.

"At the first break when they announced the score, we were pretty confident that we could get the job done," Norcross said. "We did that in the first few events, and then definitely carried it out to the end."

Bunker continued his strong night in the 500 free, which had arguably the closest finish of the night. Despite being almost dead even with Grinnell's Wade Mawe going into the last lap, Bunker turned on the after burners and registered a time of 5:23.75 took take the win, while teammates Spencer Hook and Christian Laube took third and fourth, respectively.

"He's got such a good kick at the end, that he can take anybody that's close to him at the end," Newton coach Dave Hook said of Bunker. "I think that's what he was doing, and he just did a nice job."

After the Tigers earned their second victory of the night in the 200 free relay, Pinto got the Cards back on the board with a dominating victory in the 100 backstroke. His time of 56.79 was nearly eight seconds ahead of teammate Daniel Maurer, who finished second.

That time was also just .03 seconds shy of another school record for the foreign exchange student from Brazil. It did, however, lock up Pinto's undefeated individual season, which likely won't be forgotten any time soon.

"I'm not sure that's ever been done in Newton swimming, but it may have been," Hook said. "It hasn't been done for a while at least."

The Cardinals had a 70-54 lead going into the last three events, and they were able to effectively seal the victory. After Fitzgerald grabbed a close third-place finish in the 100 breastroke, the 400 free team of senior Ryan Jolivette, Bunker, Smith and Pinto put a bow on the meet with a victory in the final event.

Although districts are now just about two weeks away, Thursday was the final regular-season meet for the Cardinals' cast of seniors. It was also probably more relaxing than when the Cards will take on the likes of West Des Moines Valley and Des Moines Roosevelt among others in Johnston on Feb. 2.

"It's weird. It hasn't really sunk in yet," Norcross said. "The next meet will definitely be a big deal just knowing that it could be my last meet. Hopefully we'll just swim our best times and just keep it going."

To preare for district, the team will go through its taper process, which lightens the swimming work load and focuses more on sprints and technique. On top of it being the possible last practices for the Cards, members of the team seem to enjoy the process.

"We'll work hard (today) and Saturday, and then start the taper on Monday," Hook said. "We'll start reducing the yardage and expecting more quality and faster times out of them. That should get them ready for districts."

"It's a fun type of training, I think," Norcross added. "It's just a lot easier, plus we'll be shaved and everything for districts, so I think we'll be ready to go."