While the Princeton High girls’ swimming team wasn’t pushed as it rolled to a 112-58 win over Robbinsville in its season opener last week, Greg Hand still saw the meet as an important test.
“Regardless of the opponent, I will always be looking for a certain few qualities in the team,” said longtime PHS head coach Hand, reflecting on the December 3 contest.
“I think we have made a lot of progress since training began, pulling ourselves together and understanding how we do things. We competed; we were really there for each other.”
Freshman Melinda Tang made a nice debut in the win, earning victories in both 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle. Other victors for PHS in the meet included Jamie Liu in the 200 free, Madeleine Deardorff in the 100 butterfly, Brianna Romaine in the 100 free, and Belinda Liu in the 100 backstroke.
In Hand’s view, his core of senior swimmers will be there for the team all winter.
“We have a great crew of seniors who really understand what we want it to feel like and try to make that happen,” said Hand, whose Class of 2014 includes Belinda Liu, Taylor Chang, Lizzy Till, Kelsey Schwimmer, and Melanie Williams with Chiang, Liu, and Schwimmer serving as team captains for the program which went 13-1 last winter and won its first-ever county title.
“Those kids have been here since the beginning; they get it. It is not that you walk on the deck and say it is a Princeton practice, it is that within the team we know what we are doing better and better everyday we train and in every meet. So in this meet, we did stuff right. There were a lot of kids getting their first chance at high school swimming, regardless of their ability level.”
PHS boasts a solid group of freshman swimmers who are taking advantage of their chance to compete at the high school level.
“We have a really nice freshman class; there is quite a bit of depth,” said Hand, citing newcomers Tang, Jamie Liu, Maddie Troilo, and Maddie Whaley as swimmers who make an impact right away for the Little Tigers.
“Some kids have been club swimming for quite a while now and other kids have been swimming year-round, maybe a little younger in the sport and some kids who are high school only. They seem to be very hard workers and it was nice to see how excited they were about racing. That whole crowd seems really enthusiastic. In a couple of years, that will be the real center of gravity for the team. It is exciting to have that level of enthusiasm.”
It is exciting for PHS to have two sophomore stars in Deardorff and Romaine.
“They are just great competitors,” asserted Hand, whose team topped Lawrence 102-68 last Thursday and will face Hopewell Valley on December 12 in a meet taking place at the Pennington School pool.
“As committed as they are to becoming their best, they really maintain composure. Their nervousness is a positive nervousness. I think the other kids understand, whether they are older or younger, that these are two athletes to whom they can look to learn from on how to approach the sport.”
And based on how PHS approached its opener, the squad appears headed to another positive season.