Athletes of the Week: Andover 400 Freestyle Relay Team Members Break 29 Year ‘Legendary’ Record at Easterns

To close out a record-breaking weekend, the 400-Freestyle Relay finished with a time of 2:59.81, breaking an Easterns record that stood for over 29 years, as well as the school record, pool record, and New England record that was set by a different lineup of Andover swimmers last year.

The record-breaking team was Marcus Lee ’21, Co-Captain Arnold Su ’20, Co-Captain Sam Donchi ’20, and Max Hunger ’20.

According to Head Coach David Fox, the team was aiming to break the record rather than win the event. Though some teams at the national level had equalled or broken the record in the recent past, no Eastern team had ever accomplished the feat.

In an email to The Phillipian, Fox wrote, “In 1991, a relay from the Bolles School, led by four-time Olympic medalist and four-time Olympian, Gustavo Borges, established a National and Eastern Record in the 400 Free Relay of 2:59.98. While eight other schools (public and independent) have surpassed that National Record in the last 29 years, no Eastern School has. For the past few years, Andover has had the goal of going under 3:00.00 and breaking that record. And in the last event of this year’s meet, Marcus Lee ’21, Arnold Su ’20, Sam Donchi ’20, and Max Hunger ’20 finally did it: 2:59.81. The relay also broke the New England, school, and pool records set last year by Andover in 3:00.91.”

This record-setting swim was a testament to the multiple years of training that had been dedicated to this race, according to Fox.

“The team has had the goal of going under 3:00.00 for several years, and we knew last spring that we had at least four returning swimmers, and at least one new one, [Brandon Garcia PG’20], who could be on the relay. All 18 varsity swimmers worked really hard all season, pushing and encouraging each other, so this is an accomplishment of not just the four on the relay but really all 18,” wrote Fox.

The team members have developed a strong bond from training together toward this common goal, according to Chris Xia ’23.

“All of the guys on that relay are obviously really strong swimmers, but they’re also kind of the dads of the team because they’re constantly working together to encourage everyone to push themselves. I think that’s one of the main reasons why they swim together so well,” said Xia.

Due to their monumental performance and leadership on the team, the members of the 400-Freestyle Relay team have earned the title of The Phillipian’s Athletes of the Week.

How had you been preparing for this event?

Lee: This relay team swam together a couple times before in-season: once at Suffield and another time at Loomis. For Easterns, the four of us were well-rested and suited so we were prepared to swim fast. We all focused on improving little details [in] each of our swims.

Donchi: Since our meeting in the beginning of the season, we’ve known [the record] was one of our goals, so I guess the whole season built up to the race. We did a lot for warmups and made sure to eat a lot of good food.

What were you thinking about before the race?

Lee: We didn’t focus on how fast our splits needed to be, but on the small details instead. We made sure that we stayed focused in between prelim and final sessions. We also kept our bodies feeling as fresh as possible.

Hunger: It’s really important to just keep believing in the training and having confidence in the training that you’ve done throughout the year. Honestly, the biggest part is to get excited and to get ready, regardless of how tired or how exhausted you’re feeling. Whether you’re feeling good or feeling bad, you just have to stay excited and happy to race because there’s so few opportunities to do so. Just have confidence, go out there, and win. Send it.

How do you think the energy on deck affected your performance?

Lee: It’s Easterns, so the atmosphere is crazy and everyone’s cheering. With the team, we bond really well, especially on this relay. I bond really well with all of the guys on this relay. They’re all amazing people and hard workers and obviously fast swimmers. They’re always there to support you when you need it.

Hunger: It’s a very intense moment. It’s at the end of the meet and the other end of the pool is packed because everyone has finished racing except for the eight teams that are in that race. It’s absolutely absurd. It’s loud. It’s hyped up. You kind of forget all of the pain you’ve gone through before. The trust, the hype, the atmosphere culminate into everyone’s willingness to send it.

What did this race mean to you and to the rest of your team?

Hunger: The best way to put it is that everyone has confidence in each other. Everyone’s learning throughout the entire season. New guys, as well as returners both push themselves as hard as possible and having seen that throughout the few months that we get to train together is really cool. When you put in your best effort, you get the best effort out of everyone else.

Su: Just in general, being able to watch your teammates swim fast at the end of the season and swim with them is very satisfying and very fun to do. You spend two or three months training really hard with them and watching the team push itself to the limit while you push yourself to the limit as well. That final moment at the end of the meet is very satisfying.