ONE-TWO PUNCH: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Matt Kuhlik, right, enjoys a break with classmate Derek Colaizzo last Sunday as PHS topped Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the state Public B championship meet. Kuhlik and Colaizzo dominated the sprint events at the meet. In the 50 freestyle, Colaizzo was first while Kuhlik took second. Kuhlik then placed first in the 100 free with Colaizzo coming in third. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
The celebration started early for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team as it faced Scotch Plains-Fanwood last Sunday afternoon in the state Public B championship meet.
After PHS senior stars Victor Honore and Addison Hebert finished 1-2 in the 100-yard butterfly, the two classmates chest-bumped on the deck of The College of New Jersey Aquatics Center and let out shouts of joy.
Above them in the jam-packed balcony, the Little Tiger supporters started rhythmically chanting “P-H-S, P-H-S, P-H-S.”
Although there were still six events left in the meet, PHS already led 47-31 and the rout was on.
The Little Tigers went on to produce a performance for the ages that won’t soon be forgotten, rolling to a 109-61 victory to earn the program’s first state title and cap a 17-0 season.
In the process, PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events and set eight school records.
The new bests came in the 200 medley relay (1:35.89, produced by Will Stange, Colburn Yu, Victor Honore, and Derek Colaizzo), 200 individual medley (Addison Hebert, 1:56.53), 50 freestyle (Colaizzo, 21.12), 100 butterfly (Honore, 49.79), 100 free (Matt Kuhlik, 46.93), 500 free (Peter Kalibat, 4:38.83), 200 free relay (Colaizzo, Hebert, Harun Filipovic, and Kuhlik, 1:28.85), and the 100 breaststroke (Yu, 1:00.16).
Senior standout Kuhlik was taken aback by the team’s dominance. “I was really surprised, that is the only way to put it,” said Kuhlik, noting that PHS had lost 90-80 to Scotch Plains in last year’s B final.
“We were coming in here thinking that it was going to be a really close meet. They swam well but we just basically had the best swims we could possibly have. I thought we went fast Tuesday (beating Summit 104-66 in the Public B semis) but this was a whole other level.”
Sprint specialist Kuhlik produced two of the more blazing efforts, taking second in the 50 freestyle just behind classmate Derek Colaizzo and then winning the 100 free.
“My 50 free really got me excited because I had my best time there,” said Kuhlik, who clocked a 21.47 time in the 50 before coming up with a 46.93 effort in his victory in the 100.
“I was going into the 100 free trying to beat Joe Dunn, knowing how fast he is. I felt amazing during my swim and had my best swim there too.”
In Kuhlik’s view, this year was PHS’s time to finally be the best. “Going into the year, the expectations were really high obviously,” said Kuhlik.
“I think we definitely wanted to make it back. Obviously this is the seniors’ last chance to win and we really wanted to win it. This is probably one of the best teams that we are going to have for a while because we will be graduating a lot of seniors. We have other good swimmers but we are going to be a pretty young team next year. I think they will do well but this was our year to win it here.”
Kuhlik and his classmates have developed bonds as they pursued their goal of a state title.
“We are all really good friends; we push each other to go faster,” said Kuhlik, whose fellow seniors include Jacques Bazile and Harun Filipovic in addition to Colaizzo, Hebert, and Honore.
“I can remember being freshmen and we were all really excited because we did well and won sectionals or whatever. We have really grown as a group together. It is going to be pretty sad losing all these guys next year.”
One of the team’s good young swimmers, sophomore star Will Stange, said the seniors have helped the team grow into something special.
“It is a good competition between the seniors and the rest of the team because they push us and we push them,” said Stange, who posted a victory in the 100 backstroke and took third in the 200 free. “It just works out well, it is constructive. We just get each other faster.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand, for his part, was stunned by the speed displayed by his swimmers on Sunday.
“I think everybody was surprised by each other’s performance today,” said Hand.
“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed. I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing. The most surprising thing was just how fast they were today and so I am always going to remember that. Coaches are extremely lucky to get a team that came together like this over the last two years. There was a huge amount of good fortune just having a constellation of guys like this together at the same time.”
Hand had the sense that his squad was building toward an explosive effort.
“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand.
“You could see it everyday, just the way the seniors were getting more involved with taking care of the younger guys. People were taking the idea seriously that if you were going to have a chance for the championship, we would all have to be on the same page.”
The fact that the seniors wrote such a historic final chapter was especially heartening for Hand.
“I couldn’t be more happy for them,” said Hand. “I thought a couple of times recently that they would know later on in their lives, even if they had lost today, that they had earned two state finals and performed really well and they had something to be proud of right there. Everybody knows just how great it feels to be the champion; I am so glad that they could have it.”
Coming into the rematch with Scotch Plains, Hand had the feeling that it was going to be a close meet.
“There didn’t seem to be any reason to switch up much from the Summit meet, the matchups seemed fine,” said Hand.
“We certainly got more points than we thought we would but that was because, as a lot of kids said during the meet, they were swimming out of their mind. It is an overused phrase, I am sure, but I haven’t seen many things like it.”
Kuhlik, for his part, was thrilled to see his PHS career end on such a high note.
“It is a great way to end it because every year, I think we have gotten better,” said Kuhlik, who will be swimming next year at Emory University.
“Last year, it was special just to be in the state final because we weren’t expected to be that good and this year we came in with really high expectations so this was just a great way to end it. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my senior year than winning the state championship.”