The pool is the place to be in the winter at Cherry Hill East.
The Cougars boys swimming team has won three of the last four Public A state championships and haven’t lost a meet to a South Jersey foe in seven years. The girls team is stacked this year, too, and eager to collect a state crown of their own.
Cherry Hill East hasn’t claimed a girls state championship in swimming since 1999. But with first-team all-state swimmers Annie Behm and Grace Yoon leading a deep roster, this could be the Cougars year.
While Yoon graduates in June, Behm, a junior, has multiple chances to bring home a trophy. She’s enjoying individual achievements, too: Behm recently qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials with her work in the backstroke.
Behm took time to take part in the South Jersey Sports Weekly one-on-one following East’s 97-73 win over Haddonfield last week.
SJSW: Cherry Hill East hasn’t won a state championship in girls swimming in a while (since it won three straight from 1997-99). How much is that a motivating factor?
Behm: I think everyone is very hungry for it, especially the freshmen since this is all new to them. They’re really excited, they hadn’t experienced meets like this before, so I think that’s a really good tell for how we’re going to do at states.
SJSW: What makes you think this is the year?
Behm: We have a great senior class and I think we’re the deepest (overall) than we’ve been in a while, which is really nice. In years past it’s been more of a focus on A-lane swimmers and people in the middle. But people on the outside have really stepped up this year. So I think this year is definitely our year.
Congratulations Annie Behm on making the 2020 Olympic Trials cut in the 100 backstroke at the Jim Wood LC Invitational! pic.twitter.com/Q5nsoe8BfH
— Jersey Wahoos (@JerseyWahoos) January 12, 2020
SJSW: So tell me more about making it to the 2020 Olympic trials?
Behm: Basically for qualifying times you have to hit a standard of a time that’s set when they release it, so recently I qualified for the 100 and 200 (backstrokes) in one of our long course meets. So I’m excited, it’ll be fun. … I’ve been working for it for a long time, especially the 200, just because I got really close as a freshman, so it feels good it’s all paid off.
SJSW: How long have you been swimming?
Behm: Ever since I can remember. My mom did Mommy and Me lessons at Wahoos so I wouldn’t drown when we’d go to the beach. [Laughs] She said I really loved it when I was little, so she kept me in it. And I grew out of my other sports because I loved it so much.
SJSW: What other sports?
Behm: I did soccer and softball. I even danced for a little bit but I wasn’t that great. [Laughs]
SJSW: Does anyone in your family swim?
Behm: My brother (Jack) and sister (Emma, a freshman at East) both swim but my parents didn’t really growing up, so it’s new to them when we started. My mom (Maureen) loves it.
SJSW: What were your parents’ top sports?
Behm: My dad (Ted) did crew at Virginia Tech. And my mom played softball at Rutgers.
SJSW: Who is your favorite person to swim against? Do you have someone that pushes you?
Behm: It changes every day to be honest. All my teammates at Wahoos push me every single day. It depends on what we’re doing. I raced (Haddonfield’s) Lilly (Derivaux) in freestyle today; she pushes me a lot. Grace (Yoon) pushes me, in IM (individual medley) especially. Erin Cavanagh from Bishop Eustace, she’s always consistent. It changes everyday.
SJSW: If you could add any swimmer in South Jersey to East’s team, who would you add?
Behm: Ohhh, that’s a tough one! I would probably say Erin, just because she’s well-rounded, she does a lot of different strokes. She’s versatile so that’d be a nice asset.
Cherry Hill East's Annie Behm won Division A 100 back in a meet-record time of 56.63. Cherokee's Abigail Zane 2nd (58.56). Kingsway's Olivia Smith 3rd (58.66). Rancocas Valley's Paige Sugra 4th (1:00.30). #sjisa @CHEastAthletics @ChiefsAthletics @Dragons_AD @RVRHS_Athletics
— Anthony Coleman (@adcoleman3) January 25, 2020
SJSW: Is there anyone you’d consider a role model?
Behm: Probably Regan Smith. I met her once at an Olympic Training Center camp I went to. She’s 17 and she’s the world record holder in two events and the medley relay for the US, which is crazy because she’s like my age. And she was super nice when I met her. So I like to see the success she’s had. It kind of shows that you can keep pushing, no matter what.
SJSW: Who would you consider your funniest teammate?
Behm: That’s really hard, a lot of them are funny. Probably, on Wahoos, my club team, Maria Jellig (who swims for Haddonfield). And on East I’d say Sarah Teng.
SJSW: How about your smartest teammate?
Behm: Oooh, that’s tough. I guess I’d say Grace is probably the smartest.
SJSW: Did she make her college decision?
Behm: Yeah, she’s going to Harvard.
SJSW: [Eyes get big]
Behm: Yeah. [Laughs] For swimming and academics, so …
SJSW: I’d say she qualifies for smartest.
Behm: She’s definitely booksmart but she’s also really clever and strategic.
SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of swimming?
Behm: Either play Mario Kart or Just Dance with my friends or paint, I like to paint a lot.
SJSW: Any TV show you’re currently bingeing?
Behm: I’m rewatching “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office,” since they’re taking it off of Netflix. I’m really sad about that.
SJSW: Any good book you’ve read lately?
Behm: “To Kill a Mockingbird” has always been my favorite book. It’s what inspired my mom to go into her career. I read it when I was young and then twice for school, I think.
SJSW: Favorite school subject?
Behm: Science or history, it depends what I’m studying at the time.
SJSW: Favorite teacher at East?
Behm: That also changes all the time. I think my favorite teacher from this year is my English teacher, Mrs. (Katie) Radbill. She’s like a mom to all of us in that classroom.
SJSW: If you arrived at a meet and everyone got introduced to their own song, what’s your entrance music?
Behm: [Laughs]. Oh that’s a really hard one. Something fun and upbeat. Something kind of silly. “Karma Chameleon” from Culture Club. Or “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, that’s my dad’s (favorite) song.