The year 2020 is only a little more than two months old, but it’s already been one to remember for Cherry Hill East junior swimmer Annie Behm.
In the past two months, Behm experienced more swimming career highlights than many have in a lifetime. She swam an Olympic Trials qualifying time in the backstroke. She helped lead the Cougars to their first Public Group A title in 20 years. At the March 1 Meet of Champions, Behm was part of two state championship relay teams (including a record-setting performance in the 200-yard medley relay), won the 100-yard freestyle state title for the first time and nearly won another individual state title when she finished second in the 100-yard backstroke. Then, to cap off the high school season, Behm announced last week she would swim in college at the University of Notre Dame.
Behm also received one more accolade last week: She was South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2020 Girls Swimmer of the Year.
“It hasn’t really settled in,” Behm said about the last two months. “I feel like later in my life I’ll truly understand what it all means. But it’s been so cool to take it in with everyone, especially with all our teammates.”
Behm has been one of Cherry Hill East’s top swimmers from the moment she jumped into the pool as a freshman. Behm had top-10 finishes in the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke at the 2018 Meet of Champions in her freshman season and then won the state title in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2019 MOC. But Behm feels she’s transformed into a much more positive and mentally strong swimmer this season.
“I think this year I’ve seen a lot of my work pay off,” Behm said. “Sophomore year, I had a good amount of success in high school swimming, but in club swimming, I thought I was missing the mark a little bit.
“This year, I didn’t put as much pressure on myself,” Behm continued. “I feel like swimming can be so difficult mentally sometimes. Continually doing the same things and trying for the same things and not getting it is really difficult. I just had a lot more fun with it this year.”
A swimmer with Jersey Wahoos in Mt. Laurel, Behm credits training trips she went on with her club team over the past year for helping shift her focus into a more positive direction.
“Besides being an amazing and talented swimmer, I think she has a fun personality,” head coach Anita Bowser said about Behm. “She is very confident in her teammates, which I think is a huge plus. When it comes down to close races, she’s like, ‘We got it.’ With the years, her maturity and everything, it’s a great thing to have.”
Behm’s contributions to Cherry Hill East this season were enormous. In the state championship triumph over Bridgewater-Raritan, Behm won the 200-yard freestyle, 100-yard breaststroke and helped both the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay teams to victories.
The next weekend at the Meet of Champions, Behm shined once again. Swimming in the 100-yard freestyle at MOC for the first time, Behm came from behind in the final 50 yards and managed to edge out Cumberland senior Melissa Lowry for first place.
“I race her a lot in club meets, so I knew it would be a good race; she’s a really good sprinter,” Behm said about Lowry. “I knew she would jump (in front) on the first 50, so my plan was to stay with her until then and then take off as much as I could.”
Behm’s other two first-place medals came in two relay events with senior teammates Brianna DiSanti, Karolyn Merch and Grace Yoon. First, the Cougars made history when they won the 200-yard medley relay state title and set a new meet record with a time of 1:44.78. Later in the meet, Behm and the three seniors won another event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. Winning the two relays was one of the biggest highlights of Behm’s season.
“It was special,” Behm said. “Especially the last one. We were up there with (Haddonfield and Moorestown); it was a 1-2-3 finish.”
“It really didn’t hit me until at the end,” Behm added about swimming with DiSanti, Merch and Yoon for the final time. “But the relays meant a lot more to me than the individual (titles).”
“I think that was picture perfect to really top off our season,” Bowser said. “Like Annie said, the relays are very important to them. There’s four people sharing in that win and that joy. It’s amazing to hear her say that.”
Behm nearly won a fourth event at Meet of Champions as she found herself in a tight race with Mainland’s Katie McClintock in the 100-yard backstroke finals. In the end, McClintock edged out Behm by four-hundredths of a second.
Coming up short in the backstroke wasn’t a huge deal for Behm. She had helped her team win its first state title in 20 years, left the Meet of Champions with three first-place medals and will have the opportunity to win even more hardware next year with the Cougars.
“I think we’ll still be able to get back to the state final,” Behm said in looking ahead to 2021. “I think we’ll have similar goals. I think we can give (Bridgewater-Raritan) another run for their money again.”