Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WINNING SMILE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Matt Kuhlik enjoys the moment last Saturday after helping the Little Tigers cruise to the team title at the Mercer County Swimming Championships. Junior star Kuhlik placed first in the 100 meter freestyle, second in the 50 free, and helped PHS to wins in the 200 medley and 200 free relay races.

Sparked by Kuhlik’s High Quality Sprinting, PHS Boys’ Swimmers Dominate County Meet

Bill Alden

After thoroughly dominating the preliminary session of the Mercer County Swimming Championships last week, the Princeton High boys’ swimming team sat in the pole position for the finals on Saturday.

Even though PHS had so many swimmers in the ‘A’ finals that it was virtually assured of the team title before Saturday’s proceedings began, Matt Kuhlik and the Little Tigers were determined to put their foot to the metal, starting with the day’s first event, the 200-meter medley relay.

With Kuhlik swimming the anchor freestyle leg, the PHS quartet blazed through the Lawrence High pool for a big win and a meet record time of 1:52.95.

“That was pretty huge to start off the meet with a really fast swim,” said junior sprint star Kuhlik.

“Will [Stange] went very fast in the backstroke and that got us going and we just finished. It did set a tone for the meet.”

The Little Tigers kept rolling, cruising to a dominant victory as they piled up 338 points with three-time defending champion Notre Dame a distant runner-up at 193 and WW/P-S taking third with 183.

Kuhlik and his teammates relished breaking Notre Dame’s stranglehold on the county crown. “It’s a special moment,” said a beaming Kuhlik.

“In my past two years, we have been kind of in the running but were never able to win it and beat Notre Dame. It is really special that we won this year and by a pretty large margin.”

The lanky Kuhlik experienced a special moment personally as he won the 100 free to earn his first county individual title.

“I was really happy with that,” said Kuhlik, reflecting on his win which saw him post a time of 54.24. “I knew it would be a close race and I had to push it to be able to win that.”

In the 50 free, Kuhlik gave teammate Derek Colaizzo a close race, taking second, just 0.74 behind Colaizzo’s winning time of 24.31.

“I think we both push each other,” asserted Kuhlik. “He had an amazing swim and I was just happy that we got 1-2. That got us a lot of points there.”

For the Little Tigers, working together comes naturally. “There is a lot of camaraderie on the team, all of us are really close,” said Kuhlik, who also handled the anchor leg for the winning 200 free relay.

“I think what is really special about it is that we not only get the first and second place, we have enough depth to get third and fourth and a lot of the top places.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his swimmers closed the deal on Saturday.

“In the finals, they were very excited but what was good is that they were very focused,” said Hand.

“I felt we had the kind of focus you look for. This idea of finishing is to stay focused enough to assume nothing and know that only your best race is going to help you get the result that you want. So just as much as the kids were having fun the way the score was obviously developing, I thought it was great that when they got behind the blocks it was all business and a really high quality performance.”

Hand was thrilled with the quality effort he got from Kuhlik. “Matt is a fabulous relay performer; he is very aggressive and focused on what he is doing,” added Hand.

“I am also very impressed with the quality of his sprinting this weekend, particularly his 100s. I thought they were great races technically and in terms of his whole approach to them.”

PHS was impressive throughout the lineup on Saturday. Freshman Will Stange won the 200 free and took second in the 100 backstroke with classmate Peter Kalibat taking second in both the 200 individual medley and 400 free and senior Peter Deardorff taking second in 200 free. PHS also won all three of the relays in the meet.

“I loved the performances of the guys who are most familiar to the community but we also got some terrific performances from kids like Harun Filipovic and Colburn Yu,” said Hand.

“It’s not about the top three places or the hardware; the terrific thing is to see how much these kids learn in this environment and how much they take on the challenge of trying to figure out how good they can be. There is a mental component to that and they talk a lot about it.”

Junior Addison Hebert showed mental toughness, taking third in the 200 IM and sixth in the 100 fly as he continued to bounce back from serious injury. “Addison had a broken elbow; he was out of the water for a couple of weeks and has been recovering since then,” said Hand. “He is a great competitor.”

In reflecting on the program’s first county crown since 2004, Hand knows that he has a group of great competitors.

“It is wonderful; it reminds you of how lucky you have to be to ever have a team that is good enough to win a championship like this,” said Hand.

“We don’t grow them; they are out there growing themselves. We are lucky enough to have a group like this who likes each other and has a common purpose. It is great to be that fortunate again.”

Having won two straight Public B Central Jersey sectional titles, PHS’ common purpose now is to make another deep run in the state tournament.

“Our sectional has real talent at least at the end,” said Hand. “I am not sure who we might encounter; it is likely to be Ocean at the end as we know. So if not before that meet, certainly by that meet we will have to be fast. If we win the sectional title, we will be going against teams, regardless of what section they are from, that are probably 400 or more power points higher than we are. It is a little like last year, except we are stronger going against teams that likewise are stronger.”

Kuhlik, for his part, believes that PHS’ performance at the county meet shows that it has a strong chance to be a championship contender on the state level.

“I think we have a good chance to go far in states,” said Kuhlik. “I think we need to stay focused on our first meet and not look ahead and really make sure to get each meet done one at a time. We feel really good after this meet obviously. Going into the states, we all know that we can go fast.”

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