In cruising to the Mercer County Swimming Championships title last winter, the Princeton High boys’ team rode on the shoulders of a stellar group of seniors.
The senior stars helped PHS dominate the 2012 meet as the Little Tigers won eight of 11 events and outscored runner-up Notre Dame by 356-190 in earning the program’s second straight county crown.
Coming into this year’s country meet last week at WW/P-N, junior star Will Stange and his PHS teammates weren’t sure if they could reach those heights. “We were a little concerned going in with the loss of our seniors from last year,” said Stange.
In Saturday’s final session, Stange didn’t waste any time showing that it was going to be business as usual for the Little Tigers.
Swimming the backstroke leg of the meet-opening 200 medley relay ‘A’ final, Stange helped PHS to a season-best time of 1:51.17 and a 3.64 second win over runner-up WW/P-N.
“It always helps,” said Stange, reflecting on starting the meet with a win. “I treat every event differently. I go in with a different mindset for everything. You don’t want to be thinking about how bad you did in one event going into the next event; but there is a sense that when somebody does something great, you want to do something great. I think our medley relay did set that tone.”
The Little Tigers proceeded to do some great things over the rest of the afternoon, winning a third straight title, amassing 269 points to easily top runner-up Notre Dame, which had a score of 190.5.
Stange won the 100 backstroke while classmate Peter Kalibat took first in the 400 freestyle to account for the team’s two individual victories. The Little Tigers concluded the meet by taking first in the 400 free relay in a meet record time of 3:39.12.
In the wake of a raucous celebration on the deck, which was even more joyous than usual since the PHS girls’ team won its first title to give the Little Tigers their first-ever county sweep, a grinning Stange was proud of how the boys’ squad followed in the footsteps of last year’s seniors.
“It really just meant a lot to us that we could pull together a great meet,” asserted Stange, who did a leg on the 400 free relay. “All of us were swimming fast today.”
While Stange just missed out on winning the 100 butterfly as he placed second, he produced a fast swim.
“The fly was good, solid second place, it was a lot faster than the prelims,” said Stange.
“Vitablie [Scott Vitablie of Hightstown] was going really fast. I tried to get him on the last wall but it didn’t turn out as I would have hoped.”
Things did turn out as Stange hoped in the 100 back as he jumped out to an early lead and cruised to victory.
“You never count your chickens so I was very happy with that,” said Stange, who clocked a 58.37 time in winning the race, topping runner-up Tyler Gulsby of Steinert by 4.63 seconds.
PHS head coach Greg Hand was very happy to see Stange and his teammates live up to the legacy of last year’s seniors
“It’s all about the guys; to know that this year’s juniors have been a part of all three of those makes me very happy,” said Hand, whose continent of junior stars also includes Matt Purdy, the third place finisher in both the 50 and 100 freestyle at the county meet, and Colburn Yu, third in the 100 breaststroke and fourth in the 200 individual medley.
“I love the way they were psyching each other up. To go up to the girls and boys 4 x100 relay teams, just literally to make sure they were there with nothing to say to them and to see that they were just getting an incredible thrill from getting on the deck and were so excited about the last race of the meet; that was terrific.”
Hand knows he has a lot of terrific performers on his boys squad. “We have a bunch of kids who are really good athletes in the sense of their discipline, commitment, and team spirit,” said Hand, whose team went undefeated in regular season dual meets.
“We have some kids who are very talented. No matter where they are on the depth chart, they are always trying to get better. It was great to see the whole team pull this off.”
It was also great for Hand to see Kalibat and Stange break through for individual victories.
“It was a fast meet in the 200, likewise in the fly, so even though we got second in those events, I thought our guys swam very well,” said Hand.
“Pete’s 400 was probably the second fastest swim in that event in 44 years; it was a great effort against a real strong field. Likewise Will just took control of that backstroke race and went substantially faster than he has gone before.”
The Little Tigers will have to go even faster than they did last week if they are to win a second straight title in the upcoming state Public B meet.
“Some of the numbers that we swam today were encouraging,” said Hand, whose team has been seeded first in the Central Jersey Public B sectional.
“If it plays out the way it looks from power points, we would swim against Lawrence in the sectional final and then go against Summit. We are within 50 power points of each other. They have extraordinary quality and depth. It would be a challenge.”
Stange, for his part, believes that PHS will be up for the challenges it will face in the Public B competition.
“Going into states, we are going to get back and just train hard,” said Stange. “We are going to try to figure out from this meet what we can improve on and then hit it hard for whoever we are coming up against.”