Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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FREE TIME: Princeton High boys’ swimming senior star Alex Zantal displays his freestyle form in a recent training session. Last Monday, Zantal won the 100 freestyle to help PHS to a 98-72 win over Lawrence High in the Public B Central Jersey semifinals. The win earned the Little Tigers a spot in the sectional final on February 19 at North Brunswick High.

Senior Star Zantal Looking to Go Out With Bang as PHS Boys’ Swimming Makes Sectional Final

Bill Alden

Even though the top-seeded Princeton High boys’ swimming team figured to cruise past No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven last Thursday in the opening round of the Public B state tournament, PHS senior star Alex Zantal was pumped up for the meet.

“We have a really strong team this year, it’s the strongest we have looked in my four years,” said Zantal. “It is one to go out with a bang. There is a lot of spirit and talent on the team; I am excited about this tournament.”

Zantal transferred his excitement into some fast swims as he won the 200 individual medley and took second in the 100 freestyle, helping PHS to a 101-69 rout of overmatched Rumson-Fair Haven.

The star sprinter and team co-captain enjoyed the way the Little Tigers took care of business.

“The team swam well; we had the right attitude,” said Zantal. “We didn’t take it lightly; we were focused. I think it was a good step.”

PHS took another big step last Monday as it topped fourth-seeded Lawrence High 98-72 in the Public B Central Jersey semifinals, earning a spot in the sectional final on February 19 at North Brunswick High.

Zantal won the 100 free in the Lawrence meet to help the Little Tigers to victory. Other individual winners for PHS included Sean MacKenzie in the 100 butterfly, Addison Hebert in the 200 IM, Matt Kuhlik in the 50 free, Harun Filipovic in the 100 back and Peter Deardorff in the 200 and 500 free.

In Zantal’s view, the return of classmate MacKenzie to the team after a hiatus to focus on club swimming, has made the Little Tigers a force to be reckoned with.

“It was a huge, huge mental boost; he didn’t swim last year at all and that was disappointing,” said Zantal.

“To have him back at midseason was amazing. Our team is complete; we have got everybody back together. We have the all star relay team back together, it’s great.”

That relay team, the 400 free relay, recently set a school and meet record at Mercer County championships.

“I think it is just great chemistry; we all get pumped up together,” said Zantal.

“There is a big mental aspect to it. We can really get each other going and swim fast. Getting pumped up, getting psyched, it is mind over matter.”

As a team co-captain along with classmate Alex Pelle, Zantal looks to get the team pumped up through his work ethic.

“I am definitely not one of those loud, in your face captains,” said Zantal.

“I lead by doing the workouts right, by swimming fast. I just try to lead by example without talking a lot.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand appreciates Zantal’s talent and leadership style.

“Alex is really a versatile swimmer,” said Hand. “He is a quiet guy but he always speaks up when he talks to the team. His leadership is subtle but very evident.”

The team’s focus was evident as it pulled away from Rumson-Fair Haven.

“It is sort of like the regular season, you never want to spend a day looking backwards or forwards, you want to do good work on each day,” said Hand.

“Today the focus was in going against a team that we knew didn’t have high power points and nevertheless behave exactly as we would in a state final.”

Hand liked the way his freshman stars behaved in their state tournament debut.

“We know we want to swim in finals so anything that can help the freshmen this year is a plus,” said Hand, who got good swims from newcomers Kuhlik, Hebert, and Filipovic.

“That is another reason to take today seriously because it’s daunting enough to step on the deck up in North Brunswick to swim for a title and if you haven’t done a little bit of mental preparation it might tend to get you overexcited or too scared.”

Hand knows that his team faces a daunting challenge in the sectional final where it will face the winner of the semifinal between third-seeded Ocean Township and No. 2 WW/P-N.

“We lost to WW/P-N and Ocean is the real deal; we know them from their conference meet,” said Hand, whose boys’ team is now 11-4 on the season.

“It’s not easy to think of a lineup that could beat them so that creates a scenario like the girls’ team last year and the year before with no automatic happy ending there. If we are lucky and good, we have a shot.”

Zantal, for his part, believes the Little Tigers have a strong shot to get the sectional title.

“I think we have a strong chance if we keep our heads together and just do the mental work,” said Zantal.

“I think we are prepared physically. It’s keeping ourselves together and having the focus so that we can get it done.”

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