By Wayne Witkowski
Last year was a season that will be long remembered for the Jackson Memorial High School girls’ and boys’ swim teams as perhaps the best one ever.
While the Jaguars’ girls rolled through the Shore Conference A South Division to their first division championship, the boys’ team suffered its only loss in 11 meets to eventual division champion Toms River High School North. The boys went unbeaten in A South two seasons ago.
All of that was accomplished without a pool in the township for either Jackson Memorial or Jackson Liberty High School’s teams, as all four squads traveled 90 minutes round trip for practices and home meets to Steinert High School. They have that arrangement again for this season for the third year in a row.
That didn’t deter Jackson Memorial’s girls from finishing third in the Ocean County meet last season while setting three meet records, two by the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:41.16) and 200 medley relay (1:50.38) and another by Anna Francisco in the 100 backstroke in 55.65. Gabby Wilson, a graduated senior, set a Shore Conference meet record in the 100 breaststroke and Francisco swam to a record time in the backstroke while the medley relay again set a meet record.
Francisco has been named the Outstanding Swimmer at the county meet the last two years, and the senior has committed to a college career swimming at Lehigh University.
Wilson, who also swam on the medley relay in both meets and the 200 freestyle relay in the county meet and holds the school record in the 200 individual medley, is off to a college career at Wingate University. Kaitlin Idank, who swam on both record-setting relays, is swimming now at Gettysburg University. Allison Young, another standout last season, is swimming at East Stroudsburg University.
A dozen swimmers graduated off each of the two Jackson Memorial teams, but both coaches are optimistic about rebuilding and competing well in A South.
Francisco, who finished fourth in the state championship meet in the butterfly in 55.95 and ninth in the backstroke in 57.31 — both school record times — is back for her senior season and already has qualified for the Shore Conference meet in both events as well as in the 100-yard freestyle. The girls’ team is off to a 2-2 start, including a 1-1 mark in the division.
“The team has been a pleasant surprise being so young with only two seniors,” said coach Dave Wilson, who is Gabby’s father.
Unlike the girls, the boys’ team, which lost two standouts in Robert Stewart and Christian Galassi among its dozen graduates, has mostly seniors in its lineup. It has won three of its first four meets but dropped a pivotal meet in the division race to Toms River High School North.
“We’re getting better as the days and weeks go on,” boys’ coach John Pelano said. “We have a lot of hard-working guys putting in the time and improving as the younger guys are stepping up and replacing those who graduated. We have guys who can swim different events and a lot of guys we can throw in the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, and we expect them to do well.”
Both teams resumed action after the holiday break Jan. 3 at Brick Township High School.
Along with Francisco, versatile junior Annalise Giuliano can swim all four sprint and distance freestyles and holds the school record at the 200-yard distance. She swam on both record-setting relays last season. Giuliano has qualified for the Shore Conference meet in the 50, 200 and 500 freestyles.
Three other juniors also will help carry the load. Emily Busch can compete in all four freestyles and the individual medley, and coach Wilson said Busch has come to realize as one of the hardest workers on the team that her efforts have paid off.
Wilson said Kaleigh Peruggia has helped fill the void left by his daughter in the breaststroke. Kayley Tezbir is a leader who excels in the backstroke, individual medley and the distance freestyles.
Freshman Jackie Navarro and sophomore Danielle Holmes provide solid depth.
Jackie’s brother, Jeremiah Navarro, and John Chitren provide senior leadership for the boys’ team. Both swam on relays that set school records two years ago — Navarro in the 200 medley relay and Chitren in the 200 freestyle relay — and already have qualifying times for the Shore Conference meet. Navarro has qualified in the sprint freestyles, backstroke, butterfly and IM and Chitren qualified in three freestyles (not the 50 free), backstroke and breaststroke.
Sophomore Patrick Idank, Kaitlin’s younger brother, already qualified for the state meet in the butterfly. He was fifth in the butterfly and individual medley at the county championships last season. The county meet takes place Jan. 13.
“We’re expecting even bigger performance from him this season,” Pelano said.
Three other seniors are near qualifying times for the Shore Conference meet: Matt Pastore in the distance freestyles, Zachary Schmidt in the 200 freestyle and backstroke and Kyle Housey in the breaststroke.