Cassandra Lee going for unprecedented record at Wayne Hills by Sean Farrell of The Record
She’s now just two laps from history.
And Cassandra Lee knows what’s at stake.
A milestone that’s eluded a decade of athletes will be in her reach when she steps up to the starting blocks on Saturday.
A girls swimmer has never won four Passaic County titles in the same individual event.
Lee could be the first in the butterfly.
“It’s just bittersweet,” said Lee, a senior at Wayne Hills. “I don’t want it to end, but at the same time, I’m going to give it my all for my last meet.”
That’s never been a question at Wayne Hills, where her infectious smile and fast times have come to be expected. By now, Lee is just about automatic in the butterfly. She easily won the county championship in it as a freshman and never gave up that title, improving a little in each of the last two years.
Coach Mike Shale just pencils her name into the lineup without much thought.
“I’m really going to realize next November how much of a luxury it’s been,” Shale said. “Rain or shine, good day or bad day, she’s there and she’s putting forth a good effort.”
Speed has run in Lee’s family.
Her older sister, Felicia, moved to Maryland as a teenager to compete for the same club team that produced Michael Phelps. There, she set national records and went on to win swimming’s version of the Heisman Trophy while at Stanford, now home to Olympic champion Katie Ledecky.
Though Lee has taken a different path, her résumé is also full.
She’s one of the best golfers in North Jersey, breaking the mold set by many of her peers who specialize in swimming. She’s also ranked near the top of the class at Wayne Hills.
“It’s just work ethic,” said Shale, once her AP history teacher. “In four years, she’s never missed a practice, never missed a meet and never complained. She’s never pouted when I asked her to do something for the team. She’s understood from Day 1 her ability and where we need her. She always put the team first and I give her a lot of credit. Not everybody has that mindset.”
The Patriots are Passaic County’s most decorated program. Their six tournament titles is the most by any boys or girls team, and their winning percentage near 70 during Shale’s 19-year run is another sign of consistent success. Securing another championship won’t be easy though in what’s expected to be a close three-team race, with defending champion Wayne Valley and upstart Passaic Tech in the running.
“We really, really work hard for each other and are there for each other,” Lee said. “I don’t think we’re expecting anything [on Saturday]. We’re all just expecting to work hard for each other, to cheer each other on.”
Win or lose, Lee is already in some good company. Only three girls have earned a three-peat at the Passaic County tournament before and just one other – Steph Urresty of Wayne Hills – returned as a three-time champion. Her bid for perfection in the 500 freestyle fell just short in 2012.
Lee said she hasn’t decided whether or not to play a sport in college (or which one), meaning Saturday could be one of her final big tests in the pool.
Wherever she goes, Wayne Hills knows she will be missed.
“Team results are always what matter most to us,” Shale said. “But on a personal level as a coach, I would be thrilled to see a young lady like her be able to achieve something like [a four-peat]. And I bet you I’d be happier than she would. I’m sure she’d be happy about it. But like any good kid you want, she’s thinking team-first.”