By Jimmy Allinder
The Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen swimming team really has no peer in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC), and that has been validated by this season’s 5-0 record (7-0 overall).
Thus, it’s natural for the Falcons to seek out competition from other parts of New Jersey and even neighboring states. They have done so twice, and the results have been more than satisfactory.
The first encounter against Hillsborough High School in the season-opener resulted in a 91-79 victory over the Somerset County power. Coach Rusty Thomsen said it is the team’s most impressive victory to date. St. Joe’s has also paid a visit to Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and came away with a resounding 110-59 win.
Two more opportunities remain on the regular-season schedule for the Falcons to demonstrate they should be considered among the state’s best with visits to Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (8-1) Jan. 18 and Morristown High School (9-1) the following day. After that, the Falcons have a couple of meets against GMC teams before competing in the conference championship meet Jan. 28 at the YMCA in Perth Amboy, followed by the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament beginning Feb. 10 and continuing through to the finals Feb. 25.
Competition aside, it takes a dedicated student-athlete to participate in high school swimming, especially at St. Joe’s. Thomsen said swimmers meet for practice at 5:15 a.m. at the Perth Amboy Y — home to many area teams for meets. A bus then transports them to the high school for classes and then those who belong to club teams go for more practice. In between, they study, eat and sleep.
To be sure, in order for this routine to work, there needs to be close cooperation between high school and club coaches, and Thomsen knows this well.
“We try to accommodate the [swimmers’] commitment to their club schedules as best we can,” he said. “It works well because club team members benefit from our morning practice because they are able to swim the same events they work on if they were practicing with their club teams.”
The Falcons feature multiple swimmers who are sure to dominate in the GMCs and can be expected to medal in the state team and individual tournaments.
Those with team bests include senior Tyler Catania (56.05 in the 100-yard freestyle and 1:08.46 in the 100 breaststroke), senior Andrew Thompson (1:58.31 in the 200 freestyle and 4:31.50 in the 500 freestyle) and sophomore Sean Doran (1:03.25 in the 100 backstroke).
Catania and juniors Sean Carlucci, Brandon Hoernlein and Rourke Morrison have combined to swim the 200 freestyle relay in 1:41.31, and Carlucci, Doran, junior Mike Esposito and freshman Adam Thompson have clocked 1:56.82 in the 200 medley relay.
Edison High School sponsors a co-ed swimming program with both boys and girls competing as one team.
The Eagles are 5-1, and coach Kaitlin Hoey said a fresh infusion of talent is responsible for the program’s success even though it is in the early stages of development.
“We’re up to 40 swimmers, and some are special,” she said. “[Junior] Matthew Furry is one to watch at GMCs in the 200 intermediate and 100 butterfly.
“[Freshman] Raymond Chen has the ability to swim multiple events (nine) with excellent times. [Sophomore] Juliet di Pasquale has been tearing it up in the 100 butterfly, and [sophomore] Angelica Warren has made a splash in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.”
Others who have won events are Melissa Mellinger (100 freestyle and 100 backstroke), Matthew Liu (200 and 500 freestyle), Bobby Kopac (200 freestyle), Logan Conway and Olivia Tomasula.
Like Thomsen, Hoey believes open communication with swimmers and club coaches has enabled each coach to set their priorities for the season.
“We established expectations early,” she said. “Although swimming is an individual sport, team focus and goals have to be unified, and I think our swimmers have done an excellent job working together.”
John P. Stevens High School’s swimming program is also relatively new, with this being the first year the Hawks are eligible to score team points at the GMC Championships.
This is also the first year the Hawks compete as members of the Red Division and have achieved 6-1 (boys) and 5-1 (girls) records.
Among the members of the team who have sparkled are sophomore Jenna Yan, who finished 13th in the 2016 NJSIAA Meet of Champions 100 breaststroke as a freshman. She also placed fourth in the 200 intermediate and captured first place at last season’s GMCs.
For the boys, senior Andrew Galarza placed third in the 200 freestyle and second in the 500 freestyle, junior Shayshadri Mallick placed sixth in the 200 freestyle and sophomore Brandan Tang was fifth in the 500 freestyle at last year’s GMCs.
“Most of my swimmers come from local clubs, and they all have their own set of attendance rules,” coach Jillieanna Peguero said. “My expectation for those who want to compete for the high school team is they attend all meets and at least one practice a week.”
“[Like other high schools], swimming requires a special commitment. Many of our kids participate in other extra-curricular activities and have a very busy daily schedule.”
The public school state tournament schedule begins with preliminaries Feb. 7 and continues through to Feb. 26, with alternating dates for boys’ and girls’ meets.