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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

RIPPLE EFFECT: Princeton High senior freestyle specialist Andrew Ferguson hones his stroke in a recent workout. Ferguson and his teammates topped Nottingham 111-59 last Thursday to qualify for their third straight Central Jersey Public B sectional final.
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PHS Boys' Swim Team Pushing Hard As It Aims for More Glory in States

By Bill Alden

For Andrew Ferguson and the Princeton High boys' swimming team, last week's opening rounds of the Public B state tournament gave the team the chance to work some kinks out as it aims to make another deep run in the competition.

"The last two meets have been a little bit of a wake-up call for us," said Ferguson, as he reflected on a week which saw undefeated PHS cruise past perennial state rival Nottingham 111-59 last Thursday after blitzing Red Bank 131-38.

"It's been almost a year since we've been in this format. It's a lot harder, you don't have the rest between races. It happens a little faster, it's a little jittery. We've had some technical problems, people not turning hard enough and not having fast enough starts, so it's been nice to have these meets."

The Little Tigers, who qualified for the Central Jersey Public B sectional final against Lawrence to be held on February 24, have proved themselves quite adept at the state format in which boys' and girls' teams race separately rather than all at once like in regular season dual meets.

Senior freestyler Ferguson, a mainstay of the program which has made it to the last two Public B state championship meets, maintained that PHS isn't competing in this year's competition with any sense of unfinished business despite having narrowly missed out on two state crowns.

"We just look at it as really special having gone to the state finals for two years," said Ferguson, who took second in the 200-yard freestyle and third in the 100 free in the win over Nottingham. "It's quite an honor getting there two times in a row. If we could do it for a third year, that would be magical."

Ferguson acknowledged that he is striving to find the magic in his individual events as he heads down the stretch of his high school career. "This season I've been happy more or less," said Ferguson. "I'm getting close to my times from the last two seasons. I'm more in shape. This year I put more time in with my high school team than with my club team. I'm getting my times down."

PHS head coach Greg Hand is certainly happy with the effort Ferguson puts into things. "Andrew is extraordinary, I've probably known few high school students who, due to their complicated schedules, are as chronically tired as he is," asserted Hand, whose team would swim in the state Public B semis in February 26 at the College of New Jersey if they get past Lawrence with finals slated for February 29 at TCNJ.

"It's not just a matter of swimming, he's one of the most active, interesting people I've known. He's got a rigorous academic schedule. He's a musician, working with the pit orchestra for the musical. He's spending a good deal of time swimming. There are plenty of other things he does so there are nowhere near enough hours in the day for him."

Hand believes Ferguson and his other veterans provide PHS with a special edge in the state competition. "I'm not sure that our experience in sectional will help us as much as having the leadership we have," said Hand whose battle-tested stars include senior freestylers Jesse Applegate, Billy Boyce, and Anson Hook together with junior standouts Pete Hand, Matt Millar, and Tom McKinley.

"As hard as it has been physically, mentally these guys have adjusted to this format. It requires a lot of courage and a willingness to push yourself to the limit."

Ferguson, for his part, maintains the team has developed a special unity as it has pushed together to get the most out of its potential.

"I love these guys," said Ferguson. "We're such a family. We're all so friendly with each other. We've been through a lot together and hopefully a little bit more."

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