Even though Melinda Tang is a freshman, she embraced the high stakes atmosphere as the Princeton High girls’ swimming team faced Lawrence last Friday in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals.
“I knew the competition would be hard and it was really exciting,” said Tang after top-seeded PHS topped No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 at the Neptune Aquatics Center. “It is the first of everything for me.”
Tang played a big role in the victory for the Little Tigers, winning the 100 butterfly and taking third in the 100 freestyle.
“It is sectional finals so you have to race a lot faster,” said Tang, reflecting on her individual swims.
In emerging as a star for PHS, Tang has learned some lessons in time management.
“I do club swimming [X-Cel] too so the biggest challenge is juggling everything,” said Tang. “I am juggling school, practice here and practice there, meets, and stuff.”
Tang has learned some lessons from the team’s veterans in taking care of her business.
“They have taught us a lot, they lead our team,” said Tang. “They build up a lot of moments with us so we bond together.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand likes the way his girls’ squad has come together.
“It is a really nice team,” said Hand, whose team improved to 12-0 with the win over Lawrence.
“The girls do everything they can to control the won-loss record but I think they are pretty realistic. We just come out and swim our best every time and if we are good enough to get a result, that is great. I like their spirit and camaraderie, it continues to grow.”
Hand credits Tang and her classmates with bringing a special competitive spirit.
“It is terrific when your freshmen are excited, nervous, but not worried,” said Hand, who has gotten good work from newcomers Jamie Liu, Jennifer Bond, and Maddie Whaley in addition to Tang.
“It shows that they are nice and grown up for their age in all the ways you would hope for. They swim because they love it; they love cheering for their team. At some level it is not about winning and losing but just about doing your best, that is a great foundation to build on.”
As usual, PHS got some great swims from its pair of sophomore stars, Brianna Romaine and Madeleine Deardorff. Romaine placed first in both the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke while Deardorff was victorious in the 200 individual medley and the 500 free.
“I thought Brianna had a really good meet today, two solid wins and a good relay swim,” said Hand.
“It was solid throughout the lineup. We asked Maddie Deardorff to go 500 again for a second time in a row; that is changing up the lineup to give some relief to some other kids. I am pretty happy with swims across the board.”
With PHS taking on Ocean City in the Public B state semifinals on February 19, Hand is looking for some more solid efforts.
“I think they are feeling pretty courageous about the next round,” said Hand, whose team would advance to the state championship meet on February 23 if they can top Ocean City.
“To go into a meet excited to swim fast on a day when the other team is going to be equally fast or faster, that is a great statement to make. No matter what, I am glad that the girls get to take this extra step and have that experience. Regardless of the outcome, it is going to be something that they remember.”
Tang, for her part, is looking to enjoy some more firsts in her debut season.
“Today was a step forward,” said Tang. “The focus going into next week is to do our best and hopefully make the state finals.”