Will Stange opened the Public B state championship meet for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team by doing the backstroke leg in the 200 medley relay.
Stange’s swim proved to be the first salvo as PHS and Moorestown engaged in a furious battle at The College of New Jersey pool over the next hour that saw the Little Tigers trailing 79-77 when senior star Stange got ready for the final swim of his high school career and the meet, the anchor leg in the 400 freestyle relay.
“We knew what we had to do” said Stange. “All of us went in and talked behind the block. We knew we had to win it in order to win the meet.”
PHS led through the first half but by the time Stange dove into the water with the fans packing the pool in an uproar, the Little Tigers trailed the Quakers. Giving his all, Stange gained on the Moorestown foe in the next lane but could not catch him as the Little Tigers lost 87-83.
“We went all out but couldn’t get it, that’s alright,” said Stange, who placed first in the 100 backstroke and took second in the 100 butterfly to help PHS be in position for victory.
While Stange was disappointed to see PHS fall 2.38 seconds short in the relay, he was proud of how the squad competed from beginning to end. “We swam as best a meet as we could here but unfortunately they just got us,” said Stange.
Despite the loss, Stange feels fortunate to have developed a deep bond with his classmates as they have won a state title, four sectional crowns, and four county championships over the last four years.
“We have been good friends through thick and thin and it is great to go out here rather than anywhere else,” said Stange, whose classmates include Peter Kalibat, Scott MacKenzie, Matt Purdy, Matt Tam, Avery Soong, and Colburn Yu. “We had an incredible run.”
Afterward, PHS head coach Greg Hand lauded his great senior group. “They went out just the way they came in with a full effort,” said Hand, whose team ended the season with a 13-1 record.
“That’s not just in the pool in a tough meet but it really applies to the way they have trained throughout their swimming career and the kind of passion they bring to high school swimming. I admire it so much. They are role models for everybody younger. They keep things in perspective. Today when we needed to swim fast and not back down, that was a piece of keeping things in perspective. It is not a perspective that says things like this don’t matter. It says that things like this do matter so do everything that you can about it and live with what you get.”
Hand singled out Stange and Kalibat as doing everything they could to make PHS a championship team.
“They are two guys who have great character, they are impressive young men,” asserted Hand.
“They are kind and yet they demand a lot of themselves and the kids that they work with. It is always positive to create an environment in which people want to try harder and are willing to press themselves to see what they are capable of. I don’t think you could ask for two better kids in a high school environment than they have been.”
In Hand’s view, his swimmers tried as hard as they could in the battle with Moorestown. “We were very together as a team today,” asserted Hand, who saw Purdy win the 50 freestyle and take third place in the 100 free with Kalibat finishing second in both the 200 and 500 free, Yu placing second in the 100 breaststroke and third in the 200 individual medley, and Soong taking second in the 200 IM and third in the 500 free.
“One guy after another stepped up and gave us a great effort. We did a lot of fast swimming today. Moorestown was, when it is all said and done, just slightly faster through 11 events. It was as tight as you can get, everybody worked for every place that we got today. We didn’t give them anything. The swims that we did to get places below first were quality swims. We had personal bests all over the place today, really impressive personal bests.”
Even when PHS fell behind early in the meet, the Little Tigers didn’t give in. “We had a sense of where we would be picking up points and where they would be getting quite a few so the whole thing was to keep fighting and race every lane,” said Hand.
“I thought we had that from the very beginning to the very end. You could see the excitement on the bulk deck from the guys that were about to swim and the side of the pool from the guys who were pulling for them.”
In the wake of the tough loss, Hand let his guys know how much he appreciated them.
“I just told them how proud I was of today’s effort and of all the effort they make in their training, and how much they care for each other,” said Hand.
The Cornell-bound Stange, for his part, cared deeply for this PHS squad. “I love this team as much as any other, probably more than any other,” said Stange.
“It is just such a close-knit group that we have. It is going to be hard next year not to be with them.”