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Using Competition to Build Family Feeling, Princeton Tigers Aquatics Club Flourishing

LOCKED IN: Coach Miles Cava, right, and a relay team for the Princeton Tigers Aquatics Club (PTAC) interlock arms as they get fired up before a recent meet. PTAC is based at Princeton University’s DeNunzio Pool and also boasts a water polo program. Cava, a Princeton High alum and former swimmer for the Princeton University men’s team, has been a coach with the program since 2010.(Photo Courtesy of PTAC)

LOCKED IN: Coach Miles Cava, right, and a relay team for the Princeton Tigers Aquatics Club (PTAC) interlock arms as they get fired up before a recent meet. PTAC is based at Princeton University’s DeNunzio Pool and also boasts a water polo program. Cava, a Princeton High alum and former swimmer for the Princeton University men’s team, has been a coach with the program since 2010. (Photo Courtesy of PTAC)

Miles Cava has been a fixture on the local swimming scene for years.

The Princeton native joined the Eastern Express swimming club as a kid and competed for the program through high school. He also swam for one season with Princeton High. Going to college in his hometown, Cava was a member of the Princeton University men’s swimming team. During his college career, he got into coaching, working with the Whitewaters club and the Community Park Bluefish.

After graduating from Princeton in 2007 with an architecture degree, Cava worked in the construction business before deciding that he wanted to help build something special as a swimming coach. He joined the Princeton Tigers Aquatics Club (PTAC) program in the fall of 2010 as an assistant coach.

The club is based at Princeton’s DeNunzio Pool and also boasts a water polo program.

“I am lucky enough to be doing what I love,” said Cava, who became the PTAC senior group (ages 15-18) coach in 2011 and will be the head coach of the club’s swimming program starting this fall.

“My coaching style combines some of what I saw at Eastern Express with my experience at Princeton under coach Orr, who is such a funny guy. I combine hard work with some wackiness and humor, I am always trying to get the kids to laugh.”

The fun starts early for PTAC swimmers. “One thing I liked about Tiger is that the coaches are a lot of fun,” said Cava, noting that Princeton water polo head coach Luis Nicolao oversees the club’s two programs.

“They get the younger swimmers to work hard but it is with a smile on their faces. Ana Carolina Juvenal is amazing with the younger swimmers. You usually hear the coaches getting the kids going, but with her, you hear the kids cheering each other on.”

Cava has focused on getting the club’s older swimmers to go hard. “I had a lot of success with the seniors with my training program,” said Cava, who also coaches masters swimming for the Princeton Recreation Department.

“It is a system we call progressive overload. We very closely monitor what the swimmers do each day, every workout is written down. We are adding yardage and speed each day, increasing the density of practice. We make it a small step more difficult each day; that gives them a challenge every day and keeps them improving. We have weekly, monthly, and season-long training cycles. We train the body. We work hard the whole time … don’t have a lot of meets like the high school season. We want to swim much faster in one or two meets, we do the highest level of training and then taper. The point of swimming is to get the fastest time possible.”

PTAC has produced a lot of fast swimming over the years. The club boasted numerous NJ Junior Olympic Qualifiers last year and has seven current swimmers who qualified for the North East Sectional Championship. Two of the club’s younger swimmers, Matthew Lequang, 12, and Ethan Feng, 10, have excelled in the NJ Junior Olympics High Point competition and hold Long Course event times in the top 100 in the U.S. in their age groups.

Success has extended outside of the pool as PTAC graduates have gone on to college at Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Villanova, Michigan, Penn State, NYU, George Washington, Rutgers, and Virginia Tech.

In Cava’s view, undergoing the arduous training helps PTAC swimmers develop discipline and camaraderie.

“The progressive training system is difficult,” said Cava. “We encourage the swimmers to communicate with each other in the pools and help each other get through it. We want them pushing each other to get better. Everyone is cheering for everybody.”

The club encourages swimmers of all levels to participate. “We have about 100 swimmers, it fluctuates and it goes down in the summer,” said Cava, noting that those interested can go to http://tigersswimming.aquanite.com for more information on the club’s swimming and water polo programs.

“We are always looking to bring in new swimmers. Most of the kids live in the Mercer County area, mainly from Princeton High, the West Windsor schools, and Montgomery High. The coaches do a good job of training the kids. The coaches are competitive and we are competitive with the other clubs.”

Competition, though, is a means to an end for PTAC. “We build lasting relationships,” said Cava, adding the club has been involved in community service projects, raising money for the Trenton YMCA and participating in Swim Across America to help fight cancer.

“We are a family that really supports each other. We are a close-knit team. It is not just at the pool, we do things together out of the pool for team bonding.”

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