Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 6
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

MACK TRUCK: Princeton High senior boys’ swimming star Sean MacKenzie displays his breaststroke form. Last Saturday at the Mercer County Championships, the Columbia-bound MacKenzie won the 200-meter individual medley and the 400 freestyle, getting named as the meet’s outstanding male swimmer for the second time in his career. MacKenzie set a meet record in the 400 free and helped the Little Tigers set a school and meet record in the 400 free relay as PHS finished third in the team standings.

PHS Boys’ Swimmers Place 3rd at Counties While Girls’ Team Shows Spirit in Taking 7th

Bill Alden

It was the eighth swim in two days for each of them and the Princeton High boys’ team had been eliminated from title contention in the Mercer County Swimming Championships.

But the members of the PHS 400-meter freestyle relay team were determined to go out with a bang in the last event of the meet last Saturday at Lawrence High.

The quartet of Alex Zantal, Matt Kuhlik, Peter Deardorff, and Sean MacKenzie fought through fatigue to win the race in memorable fashion, setting a school and meet record with a time of 3:39.89.

PHS head coach Greg Hand was thrilled with the record-breaking performance.

“It is wonderful to watch when you have a special relay with four guys who work hard together and swim fast when it’s going to be important,” said Hand, whose boys’ squad finished third of 13 schools in the team standings, trailing only champion Notre Dame and second-place WW/P-S.

“For them to break the PHS record by three seconds and the county record was really wonderful.”

The Little Tigers certainly got wonderful individual efforts from senior stars MacKenzie and Zantal.

The Columbia-bound MacKenzie won the 200 individual medley and the 400 freestyle, setting a meet record of 4:04.70 in the latter event. He was named as the meet’s outstanding male swimmer for the second time in his career.

Zantal solidified his status as one of the top sprinters in the county, placing second in the 100 free and fourth in the 50 free.

In assessing his two senior stars, Hand noted that they are proof that swimmers can take different routes to success.

“On the one hand, Sean has been completely dedicated to swimming since he started, training year round,” said Hand of MacKenzie who had taken a hiatus from the PHS team as a junior to focus on club swimming.

“I am very happy that he decided to finish out his high school career with us. He has put out everything since he has come back. On the other side, Alex is only in the water from November to February and he is as dedicated as any swimmer we have ever had. His performance in the sprints and last relay was exceptional.”

PHS got some exceptional swims from sophomore Peter Deardorff, who placed third in the 200 free and sixth in the 400 free.

“Peter likes to swim the fly in the 200 medley relay to get up to speed for the 200 free,” said Hand.

“He really goes for it when he gets in the water for the 200 free. He is such a hard worker. He swam a faster 400 on the first night but I don’t look at Saturday as a bad race. He came back and swam a real fast 100 in the 400 relay.”

Hand, who had thought that his team might finish fifth or sixth in the meet, could tell during Friday’s preliminaries that his expectations might be exceeded.

“Friday was a really exciting day, the activation was just right,” recalled Hand.

“A couple of times I looked back at our area at the pool and I saw them shoulder to shoulder, quiet and relaxed. I knew something really good was coming.”

With the state tournament starting later this week, Hand is hoping some more good things are on the horizon.

“The county meet bodes well for where we are in terms of attitude and fitness,” said Hand, whose boys’ team was seeded first in the Public B Central Jersey sectional and will host No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven in the quarters later this week with the winner advancing to semis which are slated to be completed by February 17.

“We have a really competitive team with guys who don’t get too uptight. The state format is good for guys who can bang out races without a break.”

While the PHS girls’ squad struggled a bit in taking seventh in the team standings at the county meet, Hand was happy with the attitude he saw on the deck.

“I liked the way they competed,” said Hand. “The longer this team is together, you get a better sense of how cohesive and focused they are.”

PHS junior star Victoria Cassidy displayed her customary focus as she took second in both the 200 IM and 400 free.

“Victoria was a real standout; she did four events each day,” said Hand of Cassidy who trailed WW/P-S star Rebecca Lewinson by 2.38 seconds in the IM and Hopewell Valley’s Sam Kietlinski by 3.53 seconds in the 400 free.

“To get two second places against a tough county field is a testament not just to her speed and talent but to her consistency. She was a couple of 10ths away from her best in the IM and broke the previous meet record in the 400. She had really good competition in Kietlinski. Victoria is such a fighter. Even when she is a little behind, she keeps coming.

The Little Tigers also got some good battling from sophomore Kiersten Holswade, who was a bit under the weather during the county meet.

“Kiersten had to fight her way through the weekend, she was not at her fastest,” said Hand. “I thought she did a nice job in her two events, getting 12th in the 100 backstroke and 14th in the 200 IM.”

Overall, Hand saw the county meet as a good learning experience for his girls’ squad.

“The young kids got a lot of experience,” said Hand, who pointed to the efforts of freshman June Zhang in the breaststroke and butterfly races. “The older kids showed up and swam hard.”

Hand knows that his girls’ squad faces an uphill battle in the state tournament as it was seeded No. 5 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional and will swim at No. 4 Wall.

“We will have a real challenge,” said Hand. “That will be exciting; the nature of this team is to be spirited.”

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