Vol. LXIII, No. 2
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
BACK IN THE SWIM: Princeton High boys swimming star Sean MacKenzie displays his breaststroke form in a 2007 meet. MacKenzie, a multiple county champion who left the PHS squad last season to devote all of his swimming efforts to the Eastern Express club, returned to the Little Tigers last week. The Columbia-bound MacKenzie made a sudden impact for PHS, winning the 200 freestyle and helping the 400 free relay team to victory as the Little Tigers topped Hamilton 104-66 on January 6.
It was a seemingly routine 200 freestyle race last week as the Princeton High boys swimming team hosted Hamilton.
But as the swimmers took the blocks at the John Witherspoon Middle School pools, cries of Sean, Sean rose above the din in the deck area.
Standing in lane four was PHS senior Sean MacKenzie, who was making his first appearance for the Little Tigers since the 2006-07 season.
MacKenzie, a multiple county champion who left the PHS squad to devote all of his swimming efforts to the Eastern Express club, appreciated the shouts of support.
It was just good to be back again and experience the high, said MacKenzie. It is a good thing to be part of.
MacKenzie proceeded to churn past the field in the race, clocking a time of 1:54.36 in cruising to victory.
For MacKenzie, picking up the win for the Little Tigers highlighted his seamless transition back into the program.
I missed it so much; it feels like I never left, asserted MacKenzie, who won the 200 individual medley and the 500 freestyle in the 2007 Mercer County championship meet on the way to being named the Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys side. Things feel the same again, it was just like old times.
Later in the meet, MacKenzie showed that he hadnt lost any of his competitive fire as he produced a blazing anchor leg to help PHS rally to a win in the 400 free relay.
I was trying to catch him, recalled MacKenzie with a grin. I wanted to put it out there and see what happened.
In explaining why he came back to the team, MacKenzie said he didnt want to miss out on his final chance to put it out there for the Little Tigers.
Its senior year; this is a good way to end a high school career, said MacKenzie, whose heroics helped PHS post a 104-66 win over Hamilton. I had to make some tough decisions when I left, I couldnt please everyone.
Recently, MacKenzie made an easy decision as he committed to Columbia University where he will continue his swimming career.
Its definitely close to home, said MacKenzie. I have known the coach and his family. Everything about it is good, it is a perfect balance of school and athletics.
In the meantime, MacKenzie is enjoying passing on his knowledge as a battle-tested veteran to his younger teammates.
I cant believe I am a senior and seeing all these kids come up, said MacKenzie.
It is the same spot I was in so I know exactly how they are feeling. Everyone likes to progress and I like watching it too.
PHS head coach Greg Hand liked watching MacKenzie return to action. It gives us a big boost, both in terms of depth and quality, said Hand.
In terms of depth, he is a very solid swimmer on a team that is relatively small. In terms of quality, he is obviously one of the best guys around. He has really paid his dues for years now. The guys are just thrilled to have him, they know how good he is. They all know him in school, these are friends. He didnt leave Princeton High swimming with any bad feelings.
The addition of MacKenzie to an already-promising squad gives Hand the feeling that his team can compete with just about anyone out there.
We are going to have a lot of fun rethinking our lineup and recalculating our relays, said Hand, whose team moved to 6-2 on the season with a 104-66 win over Nottingham last Thursday.
We could swim him anywhere. In breaststroke for example, we dont have a lot of speed there although we certainly have some guys who are certainly improving in the stroke. Sean puts us in a different position in the back half of a meet. With the exception of the backstroke and the 50, I can see using him virtually anywhere else based on what we need.
While having MacKenzie back in the fold helps PHS on the scoreboard, Hand liked the spirit that was already developing on the team.
The enjoyment of racing has become part of the team culture, added Hand. The guys subculture is also developing well. I think the values are right. The guys support each other, they are fun to be around. They all work hard.
PHS has certainly been getting some good work from its crew of freshmen which includes Matt Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, Derek Colaizzo, Addison Hebert, and Victor Honore.
The club guys are really integrating themselves with the team, said Hand, reflecting on his stellar freshman group.
There is no separatism there, just a sense of hey this is our team. We have versatility and what that translates into high school swimming is depth. We can put a couple of solid swims into every events, including the relays.
A key figure among PHS young swimmers is sophomore star Peter Deardorff. He is sort of the nucleus of the underclassmen group of this team, he is just so unaffected and easy going, said Hand.
As a team member I think he keeps things on a really even keel. He races very hard, hes a great competitor so thats a terrific mix to have for the younger guys.
Senior standout and co-captain Alex Zantal has emerged as a role model as well.
Alex as a senior now seems very aware of the job he has to do, training and also paying attention to his swimming, said Hand, whose team hosts Lawrenceville School on January 19 before swimming at Ewing on January 20.
Hes a guy who wants to try to figure out how to be at his best. He has always worked extremely hard but now he is paying a lot of attention to the fine points of starts, turns but also just the quality of his stroke.
MacKenzie, for his part, is determined to give the Little Tigers all the quality he can muster.
I am trying to help the team the best I can; it is all about the team, said MacKenzie. All the emotions are coming back. We are all a tight knit group. Everyone knows each other; there are no bad vibes.
And there should be plenty of good vibes for PHS over the rest of the season with MacKenzie back on board.
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