Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 9
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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LAST GASP: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Sean MacKenzie comes up for air on the breaststroke. Last week, senior MacKenzie fought to the end as PHS fell 103-67 to Mountain Lakes in the Public B state semifinals. MacKenzie won the 200-meter individual medley and the 100 butterfly races and helped the Little Tigers to a win in the 400 freestyle relay.

Senior Standout MacKenzie Battles to the End but PHS Boys’ Swimmers Falls in State Semis

Bill Alden

Most of the time, Sean MacKenzie doesn’t pause to reflect when he is standing in the starting blocks before the start of a swimming race.

But that wasn’t the case last week as Princeton High senior boys’ swimming star MacKenzie prepared to do the anchor leg in the 400-meter freestyle relay in the final event of the Little Tigers’ Public B state semifinal clash against Mountain Lakes.

“Usually when I am on the blocks nothing is on my mind,” said the Columbia-bound MacKenzie. “But before that race, I was thinking I couldn’t believe it was my last race.”

MacKenzie made his last swim special as he powered away from the Mountain Lakes swimmers, leading PHS to win in the event as the quartet clocked a time of 3:50.51.

“It was good,” said MacKenzie reflecting on the relay in which he was joined by classmate Alex Zantal, freshman Matt Kuhlik, and sophomore Peter Deardorff. “I love that relay; everyone was psyched.”

Even though PHS absorbed a 103-67 loss to the Lakers in the meet held at the WW/P-N pool, MacKenzie was psyched by the Little Tigers’ competitive mentality in defeat.

“Mountain Lakes has always been known as ‘that team,’” said MacKenzie, who won the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly in the loss to six-time state finalists.

“I am proud of what our team has done. We didn’t back down at all despite who we were going against.”

Despite suffering from a lingering cold, MacKenzie wasn’t about to back down in the Final Four clash against the Lakers.

“I have been sick for the past two weeks; it has been crazy,” said MacKenzie, who rejoined the PHS squad in midseason after taking a hiatus from the team last year to focus on club swimming.

“It was all mental; it didn’t really matter now. Everyone had to do their part now no matter what. Everyone is sick, you just have to keep going.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand appreciated the way MacKenzie kept going no matter what.

“Sean showed another dimension of his character last Thursday because he had to work so hard when he wasn’t feeling well,” said Hand, referring to PHS’s 99-71 win over Ocean Township in the sectional championship meet which saw MacKenzie coughing loudly on the deck several times after swims.

“He has always swum so hard for us. He is an incredible relay swimmer as well as individual performer. He is completely there for the team and we were just so happy he was with us this season.”

In Hand’s view, MacKenzie and his classmates set a special tone. “We have only four seniors and each of them in his own way has contributed to us, by the way they train, by the kind of things they say to the team and by just buying into what we do,” said Hand, whose seniors include co-captain Alex Pelle and Brian Lopes in addition to MacKenzie and co-captain Zantal.

“They do leave a legacy of setting the kind of climate that we all know that we have to have but doesn’t come easily. They have been competing with everything they have got. You could see it today.”

Hand is hoping the team’s younger swimmers learned something about competing in the high stakes atmosphere of a state semifinal.

“I hope they remember what it felt like because as soon as the meet got rolling, even if you were a little nervous or scared prior, you probably didn’t feel that way once you were in it,” said Hand, whose team ended the season with a 12-5 record.

“There is something to that idea of having been here before. I think they can build on that.”

With a number of superb swimmers coming back including freshmen Addison Herbert, Victor Honore, Derek Colaizzo, and Harun Filipovic in addition to Kuhlik and Deardorff, Hand is cautiously optimistic that the program can build to another deep run in the state tournament.

“I hope they really want to come back to this level and do what it takes to get back here,” said Hand, who guided the Little Tiger boys’ squad to six straight sectional titles from 2001-2006.

“They can either build the team culture or assume that it is going to happen without them. I hope they are really committed towards doing what is necessary to be successful, the training and the efforts to work together.”

MacKenzie, for his part, was happy that he returned to the program in time to help it rise to such a high level of competition.

“I am definitely glad I came back, this is why I came back,” said MacKenzie

“I missed this, the first two years were great. This definitely tops it off. I just feel like these guys have done everything they needed to do at the right time and it was good to be part of it.”

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