Greg Hand scrawled “EGAD” on his copy of the program in the section for the boys’ 200-meter medley relay last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships.
Hand’s exclamation of surprise was prompted by his Princeton High boys’ medley quartet as it opened the meet with a record-setting performance, clocking a time of 1:48.05 to shave more than four seconds off the previous meet record.
That effort was the first of many superb swims as the Little Tigers won six of eight individual events and all three relays in cruising to their second straight county crown with 356 points, nearly doubling the 190 points accumulated by runner-up Notre Dame in the meet held at Lawrence High.
Individual winners for PHS included Derek Colaizzo in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, Matt Kuhlik in the 200 free, Victor Honore in the 100 butterfly, and Will Stange in the 400 free and 100 backstroke.
“I was impressed; everyone dug deep today,” said PHS head coach Hand. “I had the sense that they really wanted to put together a strong meet overall and everybody wanted to contribute to that. Regardless of where guys were placing, I thought they raced with a lot of determination.”
Senior star Colaizzo, who was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side, saw the effort in the day’s final event, the 400 free relay, as emblematic of PHS’s determination.
Despite having long before clinched the team title, the quartet of Colaizzo, Honore, Addison Hebert, and Kuhlik, produced a sizzling effort, posting a time of 3:33.75, smashing the previous meet record of 3:39.89.
“That was absolutely amazing; we broke our school record and the meet record by six seconds,” said Colaizzo.
“Even though we were ahead by so much we were just thinking we have got to keep going after it. We really wanted that record. We really wanted to have some great swims so we decided to go after it.”
Colaizzo and classmates Honore, Hebert, Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile came into the meet looking to make a statement.
“Not to sound cocky or anything, but we knew we were pretty strong compared to the rest of the county,” said Colaizzo.
“There is a core of six seniors and we just wanted to go after it and have this last meet to be our best. We looked at some of those records and we thought maybe we had a chance of being able to break some of those so we went after it that way too.”
For Colaizzo, being named as the MVS was something he was going after.
“I was kind of shooting for it; I was trying to win all my events and see what would happen,” said Colaizzo, who posted a time of 24.11 in winning the 50 free and then came back with a 53.26 effort in the 100 free to edge Kuhlik by 0.20.
“It means so much. I think it was based on winning individual events and I was so close last year. I just got touched out in the butterfly and I won the 50. It really means a lot that I pulled through and I was able to come out on top in both events this year.”
After falling just short of the state Public B state title last year, suffering its only loss of the season in the championship meet as it fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains Fanwood, Colaizzo is hoping undefeated PHS call pull through in the states.
“I think we have a very good chance but it is going to be tough,” said Colaizzo, reflecting on the state tournament which starts next week.
“There are a lot of good teams out there. The teams we run into in the state semis and finals are really good. We got beaten so badly my freshman and sophomore years. Last year we just beat Haddonfield in the semis and just lost to Scotch Plains Fanwood.”
Hand, for his part, believes the team’s dominant performance in the county meet was a step forward as the Little Tigers look to peak at the right time.
“I am sure the guys feel a little surprised by some of their performances,” said Hand.
“Nobody has seriously tapered for this meet as is true all over the state. It is nice to know that we could swim fast and get good swims under these conditions. It does help build some confidence. No doubt, we can go faster.”
Colaizzo has no doubt that the team’s group of seniors will bring a special sense of urgency to their final state tourney.
“We want to go after it. It is one of our only chances in a long time and who knows when this opportunity is going to come again,” said Colaizzo, who is headed to Princeton University next year and plans to walk on to the Tiger men’s swimming program.
“We just got lucky with all of these great seniors. A lot of us have different interests but when we come together, we have a tight bond.”