By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
The Hillsborough High School boys swim team has had success through the years. The Raider girls team has had success, too.
Enjoying the same level of success in the same season, however, has been elusive — until this year. Both the boys and the girls captured Central Jersey Public A state championships last week.
“It’s amazing,” said HHS sophomore Joshua Franco. “Being the second year on the team and getting this far again. Last year we didn’t make it. This year with a little weaker team we came back and had amazing swims and came through.”
The boys were 103-67 winners over Lenape last Friday, one day after the girls cruised by county rival Montgomery, 107-63.
“I think this is the first year that both of us won a sectional title together,” said Raider senior Stephanie Mauer. “That really pumped us up and made the program look even better.”
Both the boys and girls have had their bumps this season. The Raider girls improved to 10-1 and moved into their first Public A state final when they stopped Morristown, 94.5-74.5, Tuesday.
“We’re definitely still pretty confident,” Mauer said. “It’s just another step in the road to our ultimate goal.”
The Raiders will face Bridgewater-Raritan on Saturday for the state final.
“They got there,” said HHS head coach Todd Sudol, whose boys were scheduled to face defending state champion Cherry Hill East in the state semifinals Wednesday. “I give them all the credit in the world for believing in what we’re doing and what the expectations were.
“Part of the challenge for a swimmer is knowing the bar is high and that’s the expectation. For them to be successful, says a lot about their character and the sacrifices they made to achieve those things.”
The boys lost a terrific class to graduation last year, but came back to go 6-3 and earn their first sectional title since 2008, when they reeled off five straight.
“It was a ride,” Franco said. “We were really low on the depth chart with swimmers. Every meet was close. But every meet being close, it felt better winning. You couldn’t take anything for granted. We proved it. We made it to the playoffs and won the sectional title. I’m pretty sure we’re not done.”
Franco is one of the reasons the Raider boys could celebrate. He started swimming when he was young and looked at cross country as an alternative in middle school before realizing how much he loved swimming. He’s developed into a force this season after joining the HHS program last year.
“Although we might not have as many key players like Brad (Zdroik), I still think I played a big role last year,” Franco said. “I felt the need to step up. You can’t just rely on the seniors.
“I trained so hard since last year. I’m really proud of what I’ve been doing and I’m proud of my team. My endurance is better.”
Franco won the 200 individual medley and won the 100 backstroke while teaming up with Berton Wang, Sam Hendrix and Matt Sanders to win the 200 medley relay and with Hendrix, Derek Kosydar and Kevin Gibson to capture the 400 free relay against Lenape. Gibson won the 200 freestyle, Hendrix won the 50 and 100 freestyles and Karl Conrad won the 500 free.
“We were set to dominate quickly,” Franco said. “I told my teammates we have to set the tone from the The medley relay win started things right, and it snowballed from there. The win supported the program’s philosophy of reloading, not rebuilding.
“A lot of the kids that needed to improve this year and take those starting spots or supportive roles because of graduation, they filled them,” Sudol said. “I pushed these kids. I don’t lower the expectation year to year. We have a standard and we can’t deviate and change that. I’m proud of the boys and the girls for doing that. Once you do that enough years in a row, it becomes what part of the program is about.”
The girls had won a sectional crown in 2013. Mauer was just a freshman then, and was ready to see a sectional win every year. She had to wait until her senior year.
“We won three years ago,” she said. “This is kind of like redemption. The last two years have been kind of upsetting seasons.
“It’s hard when you’re a freshman,” she explained. “You’re so new to everything. You expect it every year and reality hits you that it’s not that easy. When we won this year, it gave us life again.”
Last year, the Raiders thought they had a good chance, but were derailed in the sectional semifinals. That loss helped motivate them.
“I think we kind of were replaying last year in our heads,” Mauer said. “We definitely didn’t want to replay what we felt last year. That was a key for us — thinking back in the past and you don’t want to feel that again. That was our motivation.
“Freshman year, it was a great year,” she said. “To finish off high school with a sectional title is just as good.”
Megan Bull won the 200 IM and the 500 free, Julieyanna Parker won the 50 free and 100 butterfly and Alexandra Temple won the 100 free and 100 backstroke. The Raiders swept the relays with Temple, Bull, Haley Tevnan and Parker winning the 200 medley, Rachel Karan, Kari Patane, Mauer and Tevnan winning the 200 free relay and Temple, Mauer, Bull and Parker winning the 400 free relay.
“Relays have always been a big part of our teams,” Mauer said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to. It gives us an opportunity to show how good everyone on the team is, not just a few individuals.”
It takes more than a couple stars to win titles. The Raiders’ outside lane depth enabled them to pull away from their sectional final foes.
“Outside lanes, you can’t ask more of them than when you see seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, no sixth places,” Franco said. “It helps so much.”
Hillsborough was happy to be at full strength by the end of the season after Parker missed time due to illness and the boys had some mid-season injuries that healed.
“There’s always going to be bumps in the road,” Mauer said, “but we knew towards the end of it, everyone would be healthy and ready to compete against tougher teams.”
It all came together for the boys and girls so they could share in their sectional titles. It’s a historic achievement both were thrilled to celebrate.
“To have both teams win in the same year is unique,” Sudol said. “Our boys and girls are close. They train together. The boys want to see the girls win the title, and the girls want to see the boys win.
“As a coach, to win means your teams have met some of the goals you’ve set out. It’s a tribute to the kids and their abilities and being able to have the right mindset for the postseason. It’s taxing on the mind and the body. These are not easy. We swim in a very competitive part of the state.”
HILLSBOROUGH: Boys and girls swim teams go for state titles
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group