CP Bluefish Produces Record-Breaking Summer, Utilizing Depth to Dominate PASDA Championships
PIPING UP: Community Park Bluefish swimmer Piper Dubow displays her butterfly form in a meet this summer. Dubow helped the Bluefish take first in Division 1 at the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championship meet in late July. Dubow was named the 18-and-under girls MVP at the PASDA meet, taking first in both the 50-yard breaststroke and 100 individual medley. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
It was a record-breaking summer on many levels for the Community Park Bluefish swimming team.
First, the venerable program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, drew 280 swimmers and 60 divers for its 2022 campaign.
“That is the most we have ever had, it blew away the most we had before,” said Bluefish co-head coach Mike Uchrin. “This is our first year back to normal season, 2021 was a transition. We weren’t really sure what to expect this year. As the year went along, I was talking to Kelsey (co-head coach Kelsey Schwimmer), saying these are really big numbers. A lot of families in the post-COVID times wanted to get their kids back into the water and back into a sport where they will have fun. It worked out great.”
Featuring such depth, the Bluefish went 5-0 in dual meet competition in Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division 1 action and then dominated the PASDA championship meet in late July, taking first in Division 1 with 4,441 points, well ahead of runner-up Hopewell Valley, which had 1,999.
“It is the most points we have ever had at the championships, we had the most PASDA MVPs (six) we have ever had,” said Uchrin, whose team has been undefeated since 2015 and hosted the PASDA championship meet. “We had multiple PASDA league records that we set. It wasn’t just our collective performance but we had a lot of great individual performances.”
While proud of the team’s achievements, Uchrin is more focused on making sure that the swimmers have a great time.
“It is not about the wins and losses, it is about the fun,” said Uchrin, noting that Friday practices are devoted to playing sharks and minnows and water polo rather than grinding out laps.
“Summer league is not so much about that. Ultimately you get a situation where you get a lot of kids wanting to participate, having a good time and then the results are going to speak for themselves. It has happened organically that we have been on this win streak.”
Co-head coach Schwimmer, a former Bluefish team member and 2014 Princeton High alumna, saw the fun atmosphere around the team fueling progress in the water.
“I know that every group saw significant improvement, every coach would say that each kid dropped time,” said Schwimmer, who joined the Bluefish in 2012 and also competed for the PHS swim team and is now a kindergarten teacher in Dunellen.
“We have our MVPs and our kids who we knew would come in where they would but the amount of depth we had down the line in each group was really spectacular. We had so many kids per group; we had 40 kids in the 10-and-under. It also shows that they want to be there.”
Uchrin credited Schwimmer with playing a key role in getting the most out of that depth.
“I have known Kelsey since my very first club practice here, I am really proud of her,” said Uchrin. “I started off as her coach and then brought her on to coach with us. I mentored her along the way so it has been a lot of fun. I knew she was going to be great for it. Kelsey has been such a huge part of our team for so long. I took the lead a little more to focus on the 11-and-overs and Kelsey a little more on the 10-and-unders. It worked out great as I knew it would.”
Despite dealing with so many swimmers, Uchrin and Schwimmer made sure that each athlete got individual attention.
“We are able to see progress because we have such a great facility that helps out,” said Uchrin, noting that the staff included nine assistant coaches. “We are able to go and spread out. Including the diving well, we are using over 20 lanes for practices. Essentially each group is able to operate and maintain pretty good numbers in their lanes and is able to work individually. With so many coaches and a great facility to make it work, I definitely do not feel that the quality of the program has changed at all with our numbers. We just have to be organized and stay on top of that for sure.”
One of the top swimmers for the team was Rei-Jhe Lee, the PASDA championship meet MVP in the 8-and-under boys division. He took first in the 25-yard butterfly and the 100 individual medley.
“Rei-Jhe worked so hard, he is the team jokester,” said Schwimmer. “He was always cracking jokes, having fun. He did fantastic.”
The team’s 8U boys crew featured other standouts, including Thomas Loper, the winner of the 25 backstroke, Kian Martin, the first place finisher in the 25 breaststroke, and Lucas Julian, who won the 25 freestyle.
“That was such a good group,” said Schwimmer. “It was a small group overall but they were so mighty.”
In the 10U boys, Nathan Ricciardi had an amazing meet, getting named MVP in the age group, winning the 25 back and the 25 butterfly.
“Nathan was fantastic, he and his twin brother, Matthew, have been on the team for years now,” said Schwimmer. “They come to every practice, they show up for every meet. Nathan works so hard. He is so excited to come and swim and do his best. I am so proud of him.”
Allen Ma led the way for the 12U boys, taking second in the 50 fly and second in the 100 IM while Natan Wysocki placed second in the 50 free and third in the 100 IM.
“The 12-and-under boys overall was a huge group, they collectively were a really strong group for us,” said Uchrin.
“The 12U boys and girls collectively were probably our strongest. We had a lot of them and had a lot of coaches assigned to them. They had a lot of fun this season, they were probably the most enthusiastic group.”
David Brophy had a lot of fun at the PASDA meet, taking first in the boys 14U 50 fly and fourth in the 100 IM.
“David was phenomenal this season, he set a new team record in the 50 free this season,” said Uchrin, noting Brophy broke a record previously held by Will Stange, a former PHS and Cornell standout. “He comes in and works hard. He is prepared, he gives 100 percent to every race.”
The 14U boys featured several other standouts, including Braedyn Capone, who took third in the 50 breast with Shawn Ellwood placing sixth in 50 fly and eighth in the 50 free.
The quintet of Andrew Lenkowsky, Paul Lacava, Julian Velazquez, Lucas Gold, and Kentaro Bauer were stalwarts for the 18U boys.
Lenkowsky placed first in the 50 free and second in the 50 free while Lacava was second in the 50 free and third in the 50 back, Velazquez came in third in both the 50 fly and 50 free, Gold took second in both the 50 back and 100 IM and Bauer was first in the 50 breast and fourth in the 50 free.
“Those five collectively were so strong for us,” said Uchrin. “If you look across the league, many teams really struggled to get senior guys. Those guys have come up together and stuck together with the sport from different club teams and different areas. That speaks to what we do, that is what I am most proud of with the team. They were able to set team and PASDA league records in both relays (Gold, Velazquez, Lacava, and Lenkowsky with winning time of 1:32.33 in the 200 free relay and Gold, Bauer, Velazquez, and Lenkowsky with a time of 1:42.89 in the 200 medley relay).”
As for the Bluefish girls, the Ben sisters, Alicia and Adalyn, set the pace for the younger girls. Alicia was 6-and-under girls PASDA MVP, placing first in both the 25 back and 25 free while Adalyn was named the 10-and-under girls MVP, winning the 25 free and 100 IM.
“They were incredible, I can’t say enough about how amazing they are,” said Schwimmer.
“Alicia was MVP in the 6-and-under and she also came in first in the 8-and-under butterfly which is crazy, amazing. She was so dedicated, she was always there, working hard. Adalyn is also an amazing swimmer. She was just always up for anything. I could put her wherever I needed her and she was just always doing her best, getting better and better.”
Another amazing swimmer for the team was Alexis Julian, who placed first in the girls 10U 25 free and second in the 25 breast.
“Alexis has been with us for a while; what was so impressive about her is that she is only nine so she will be back in the nines and 10s next year,” said Schwimmer. “She worked so hard and it showed, she was dropping time every race and getting better and better. She just kept outdoing herself.”
In the 12U girls, Charlotte Flanagan outdid herself, placing first in the 50 back and 100 IM
“Charlotte along with those other girls, that was one of our strongest groups,” said Uchrin. “I think statistically it was our largest group. We swept both relays.”
The 14U girls group was paced by Annie Flanagan and Zoe Bitterman. Flanagan was the PASDA MVP, winning both the 50 back and 50 free while Bitterman placed first in the 50 fly and the 100 IM.
“They are longtime Bluefish, committed to the program,” said Uchrin of Flanagan and Bitterman.
“Zoe has been on the team since she was six. Annie is phenomenal, she is going to be at Princeton High next year. They were a dynamic duo. Beyond them, we had a great group of 14U girls.”
The Bluefish 18U girls also did some great things. Piper Dubow was the PASDA MVP in that age group, taking first in the 50 breast and 100 IM. Sabine Ristad placed first in the 50 fly and second in the 50 back while Elena Nechay won the 50 free.
“I love the 15-and-over girls group this year; they were so excellent and they were such a great combination of both rec swimmers and club swimmers from a variety of local teams,” said Uchrin. “Piper is a longtime Bluefish swimmer; this year she stepped up and coached as well. But beyond Piper, we had so many strong swimmers in that group. You don’t always get a lot of seniors that stay involved. You see drop-off around the teenage years and it is really a testament to see so many 15-and-over girls sticking with us.”
The sense of community engendered by the Bluefish has led the thousands of swimmers to stick with the program over the years.
“Summer in Princeton is Bluefish; you do barbecues and trips to the beach and then you go to a Bluefish meet,” said Uchrin. “We didn’t turn anyone away. Everyone who wanted to swim was able to come and swim. We were able to get a great sense of teamwork and a great sense of the energy in the community that we have built here. It speaks to our role in the community and the support we get from the community. It is so great.”
Schwimmer, for her part, believes that the supportive atmosphere around the team has resulted in many developing a lifelong pursuit.
“I just love how Bluefish is a place for kids to get excited about swimming and really fall in love with the sport,” said Schwimmer. “It is not as intense or competitive as club swimming. It is that perfect entry point to get as many people in the community involved as possible. You see kids go from not being able to swim or not really knowing how to race to just loving it. They can’t wait for next summer.”