Swimming star Avery Soong moved to Princeton last year from Pennsylvania but focused his efforts on club swimming rather than join the Princeton High boys’ squad for his junior season.
This winter, though, Soong has joined forces with PHS for his senior campaign and is happy to be part of the squad.
“I have been cleared to join this team so we can make a run,” said Soong. “It feels so good. I swim with Will Stange and Gabe Bar-Cohen everyday with the Piranhas so that has been a help.”
Last Thursday, the trio of Soong, Stange, and Bar-Cohen came up big as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public Public B Central Jersey sectional.
Soong won the 100-yard backstroke and took second in the 200 freestyle while senior Stange won the 200 free and freshman Bar-Cohen placed first in the 100 butterfly.
For Soong, battling Stange in the 200 free was a highlight of the meet. “I saw Will at the end,” said Soong, who made a furious rally and ended up second by less than a second. “I go to get every win but he out-touched me.”
In Soong’s view, the PHS performance against Ocean was a good first step in what the Little Tigers hope is going to be a run to a state title.
“This is a meet for preparation and seeing what it feels like with the short schedule and to get it going in the states,” said Soong.
PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his team took care of business in the victory over Ocean.
“We didn’t have to swim our fastest lineup; we gave different tasks to everybody and it was nice to see kids handle that,” said Hand, whose team showed its speed on Monday when it topped fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 where it will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title.
“It was nice to see Matt Tams swim an IM (individual medley) at the end of the year. He hasn’t had too many chances to do that in his career. It was great to see him as a breaststroker working real well through the first half of his race and coming back in the breaststroke leg and really looking solid, reflecting how well he has trained throughout the season. There were a lot of races like that and then other ones where guys were trying to hit target times or work on something specific.”
It has been nice for the Little Tigers to add Soong to their lineup.
“We are very lucky to have him; he has contributed a lot to the team,” said Hand, whose squad improved to 11-0 with the win over HoVal.
“He clearly enjoys being a part of this very tight senior class. To add one solid swimmer to that bunch in a year like this is real good for the team.”
Another newcomer, Bar-Cohen, has emerged as a key contributor for the Little Tigers.
“Gabe had a terrific counties and before that, a great meet against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season so he has been coming along steadily,” said Hand.
“He hasn’t been a club swimmer for very long. He swims on the Piranhas where he is flourishing. I get the impression that every time he is just going to go out and give his best, already at his young age he is reconciled to the fact that the only thing you can do is his best job in his own lane. I think that rubs off on other people.”
PHS displayed a good mindset across the lanes on Thursday. “It was a fairly quiet deck in this meet but I don’t think that mattered at all,” said Hand.
“I thought everybody was paying attention and supporting each other well and that’s just we wanted.”
Soong, for his part, wants to end his only season for PHS with a bang.
“We have got to go fast, we have to bring our best or it will be lost,” said Soong.
“This is one of our strongest senior classes in a long time and we are willing to make it worth it.”
And adding Soong has made that senior group even stronger.