With the Mercer County Swimming Championships having ended about a half hour earlier and the WW/P-N pool going quiet with the exit of the competitors and spectators, there was a solitary figure in the water pounding out lap after lap.
Fittingly, that swimmer was Princeton High senior star Will Stange, who had spent most of the day alone at the head of the pack, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke as he helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown.
Stange, who also helped PHS win the 200 medley relay and take second in the 400 free relay, was named as the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer. For Stange, earning the individual accolade was important in the context of the impact it could have on the team.
“It was great; it sets me up personally and gets me excited for the rest of the season,” said Stange. “Hopefully it psyches everybody else up coming out of this meet.”
In addition to Stange’s heroics, PHS got wins from senior star Peter Kalibat in the 200 and 400 freestyle races while classmate Colburn Yu won the 100 breaststroke.
The Little Tigers needed those wins as they were pushed hard by Notre Dame, piling up 277 points to hold off the Fighting Irish who came in at 239.
After helping PHS open the meet with a solid victory in the 200 medley relay, Stange was psyched up to go for a record in the 200 IM.
“I was thinking about it; they told me last night that it was 2:08 and I went 2:11 in the preliminary,” said Stange, who finished nearly half a lap ahead of teammate and fellow senior Colburn Yu in clocking a time of 2:07.42.
“I figured it wasn’t going to mess me up for the 100 back so I will go for it. I am in my own lane, nobody else affects me.”
Later, in the backstroke final, Stange messed with the competition as he broke a record he had set a night earlier in the preliminaries.
“I was trying to go a little bit faster to be honest,” said Stange, who posted a time of 56.85, more than four seconds ahead of runner-up Aly Sayed of WW/P-S. “I was hoping for a 56 low but 56.8 is really nice.”
It was very nice for PHS to win a fourth straight county crown. “It couldn’t be any better,” said Stange, reflecting on the four-peat. “You never enter a meet without trying to win so for us to be able to do that really means a lot.”
For PHS head coach Greg Hand, Stange and his classmates have shown they know what it takes to win when the chips are down.
“We have got a senior class that, more than anything, has established a track record of being guys who step up when the pressure is the greatest,” said Hand.
“I am thinking of great semifinals and finals meets in states in the last few years, county environments, and the toughest of the dual meets. These guys love the sport and they are definitely at their best in the toughest conditions.”
Stange saved one of his greatest performances for his last county meet. “This was a brilliant meet for Will,” said Hand of Stange, who has committed to swim at Cornell next season.
“Since freshman year, we have asked for perhaps more versatility from him than anybody. In this meet, it seemed to be the time to allow him to swim the IM and show the kind of mastery he has of all the strokes and also to go 200 yards for us instead of the constant 100s. He showed the depth of his training, his endurance, and his will to compete with everything he has got.”
The Little Tigers also got a superb competitive effort from Kalibat. “I would say Peter Kalibat was the swimmer who was most challenged today in his wins,” said Hand.
“Will was in a spot where he really had to race the clock and keep his discipline and accomplish what he was in the water for. Pete was up against a guy who he knows pretty well [Hamilton’s Griffin Hutton] and is really talented and he dug deep, especially in his 200 win. He went out hard and said that he swam the last 75 or so feeling really tight. It is a real tribute to the fact that he has been there before and has felt that feeling 100s of times; that gives him the ability to recognize it and just swim through it.”
In Hand’s view, the county four-peat is a tribute to his swimmers’ mental and physical gifts. “What four county titles means to me is that we are extremely fortunate to have the character and the talent of the kids that we have had,” said Hand.
Posting a 9-0 record in dual meet competition this winter and getting seeded first in the upcoming Public B Central Jersey sectional where it will host eighth-seeded Ocean Township High on February 6, PHS is poised to test its talent against anyone in the state.
“The guys are well positioned, I think we know who we are going to swim in sectionals,” said Hand, who has guided the program to five consecutive Public B Central Jersey titles and a state crown in 2012.
“We are going to have to get through a tough Hopewell team and a tough Lawrence team and that’s not simple.”
Stange and his teammates, for their part, will be taking a basic approach in the states as they look to add another title.
“We know where we have to improve going into states and we are going to adjust our lineup accordingly depending on the team we are against,” said Stange.
“We are going to push it one meet at a time, hopefully all the way to the state championship.”