With Throng of 220 Athletes Coming Together, CP Bluefish Cruise to 5th Straight PASDA Title
BITTERSWEET: Zoe Bitterman displays her breaststroke form in a race earlier this summer for the Community Park Bluefish swim team. Bitterman starred at the Princeton-Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championship meet in July, earning PASDA MVP honors for the 10-and-under girls. The Bluefish won their fifth straight Division 1 crown at the meet, piling up 3,649 points with Lawrenceville Swim Association well behind in second with 2.159.50. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Boasting a throng of 220 athletes, the Community Park Bluefish swim team continued its dominance of the Princeton-Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) this summer.
Competing at the PASDA championship meet in late July at the West Windsor Waterworks, the Bluefish cruised to their fifth straight Division 1 team title, piling up 3,649 points with Lawrenceville Swim Association well behind in second with 2.159.50. That victory culminated a 2019 campaign that saw the Bluefish go undefeated in dual meet competition for a fifth straight season.
While Bluefish head coach Mike Uchrin was thrilled to see his swimmers triumph again, it is not the victories that mean the most to him.
“I haven’t lost as a head coach, either a dual meet or a championship meet, but it is not about winning and losing,” said Uchrin.
“It is about having fun and the kids have a blast. That is what it is really about.”
Uchrin credits his coaching staff of former and current Bluefish with making things fun on the deck.
“I had to add an extra assistant because our 6-and-under group was quite large this year so we had nine assistant coaches,” said Uchrin.
“The coaches each operate as essentially their own group; that is how we are able to still give everyone individualized attention. They each had their own lanes so they only have to focus on their own swimmers. We start with the 6-and-under and then every couple of years up from there, just like PASDA is broken up.”
The Bluefish displayed their focus in a narrow win over the Lawrenceville club in dual meet competition.
“The kids love the dual meets; we had one of closest that I have seen in a while against Lawrenceville and the kids got so excited,” said Uchrin.
“Everyone was hands up and ready to go. Under the pressure situation, it actually came down to the last couple of relays and our seniors came through. They had some really clutch swims.”
Matthew Krol produced some clutch swims in the 10-and under boys’ division, winning both the 25-meter freestyle and the 25 backstroke and helping the team take first in both the 100 free and medley relays. Darren Elwood also starred in that age group, winning the 100 individual medley and taking second in the back while Charlie Baglio won the 25 butterfly and took third in the 25 free.
“Matthew was fantastic. He had a great season last year and this year in the dual meets and in championships,” said Uchrin.
“In addition we had Darren, they went 1-2 in backstroke. That was a really strong group for us. You could see it if you look at the relays as well. Both of those boys were on our freestyle and medley relays and those relays placed first. They are the heart and the soul of both that group and the team. They really embody what summer swimming is all about. Charlie is from another longtime Bluefish family. He ended up finishing first in the 25 fly; that was a really gutsy swim. There was a lot of tough competition in that group.”
In the 14-and-under group, Julian Velazquez came up big, winning the 50 fly and taking second in the 50 free.
“Velazquez had a great 50 fly; in the relays he did a great job really pushing hard and keeping those boys together and working hard to try to do the best that they could,” said Uchrin.
“Julian really took a leadership role with those 14-and-under boys.”
Owen Tennant pushed hard for the 18-and-under boys, winning the 50 breast and taking second in the 100 IM.
“Owen was great as far as breaststroke goes, he placed first and Calvin Ristad placing second,” said Uchrin.
“Our senior boys’ breaststroke was great all season. Owen ends up being part of the 18-and-under boys medley really that won. We had some great senior boys with leadership there as well.”
In reflecting on his senior boys, Uchrin credited Philip Lacava and Matthew Tan with providing special leadership over the years.
“The Lacavas have been a huge part of our team for a long time; I have worked with Philip a long time,” said Uchrin.
“He is one who lets his actions speak louder than his words, but he is always able to amp up and get everybody going for a great relay. Mitchell Tan is a great leader for the team spirit; you can always here him cheering at the relays. I am sad to see both of those boys go.”
Alexis Julian did some great work for 6-and-under girls, winning both 25 free and 25 back.
“Alexis won the PASDA MVP for the 6-and-unders, she is just fantastic, she has got a motor and she pushes hard,” said Uchrin.
“She won the 25 free and the 25 back and that is something she had done all season for us. She is a great leader for that 6 and under group.”
The Bluefish had another MVP in the 10-and-under girls in Zoe Bitterman.
“Zoe ended up winning the 100 IM and 25 fly,” said Uchrin. “The thing about the 25 fly that is most impressive is the margin that Zoe won it by; she is just so strong. Even beyond her physical strength, she is a leader on the team and someone the swimmers look up to. She just has so much fun, she always has a big smile on her face. She is just a great person to be around.”
Samantha Kent also starred for the 10-and-under group, winning the 25 back and 25 breast.
“Samantha did great,” said Uchrin. “She was always focused; she had one of the best underwaters I have seen for a swimmer that age. She really puts them to use, so that is her strength.”
Showing strength in the 12-and-under girls, the Bluefish boasted co-MVPs with Sabine Ristad and Annie Flanagan. Ristad places first in the 100 IM, 50 breast, and 50 fly while Annie Flanagan won both the 50 free and 50 back.
“We had some really amazing swimmers in that group,” said Uchrin. “That 12-and-under girls group ended up being the embodiment of what our team is. We had divers, water polo players, club swimmers from multiple different clubs, and the seasonal swimmers as well. They were all coming together.”
The pair of Serena Sharpless and Cammie Davis did some amazing things for the 18-and-under girls. Sharpless prevailed in the 50 free and 50 fly while Davis was second in both the 100 IM and 50 free.
“Serena and Cammie are fantastic leaders on this team, they are longtime Bluefish,” said Uchrin.
“Cammie actually did double duty this year, she ended up coaching as well. She worked with our 10-and-under girls and boys. Cammie and Serena were great. The big thing as well is that our 18-and-under girls won both the relays, free and medley. Cammie and Serena were huge parts of that.”
Reflecting on the program’s tradition of success, Uchrin believes it has become a vital part of the social fabric for Princeton residents.
“It is a summer pastime,” said Uchrin, noting that the team has been going strong since the 1970s and is approaching its 50th anniversary.
“That is why when we hear that the sport is shrinking with some of these other teams closing up, we stay strong because of this great support that we have from the community. Along with barbecues and trips to the beach, the Bluefish is part of the Princeton community.”
Uchrin, for his part, is glad to be part of the Bluefish program. “I am just along for the ride; honestly it comes down to the kids coming out and having a good time and the community supporting the program,” said Uchrin.
“The coaches who work on the staff as assistants are the best. We have these kids that have come up through the program and are now coaching. It creates a culture where you see the younger kids looking up to them as role models and then striving to be them. It is amazing to see.”