August 9, 2023

CP Bluefish Overcame Early Adversity this Summer On the Way to Winning 8th Straight PASDA Championship

ALEXIS THE GREAT: Community Park Bluefish swim star Alexis Julian displays her breaststroke form in a race this summer. Julian helped the Bluefish place first in the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championship meet in late July. Julian finished first in the girls’ 10U 25-yard freestyle and 100 individual medley and earned the Most Valuable Player award in the age group along with teammate Oceana Hsieh, the first place finisher in the 25 breaststroke and the 25 butterfly. CP rolled to its eighth straight title in the competition, piling up 3,588 points in taking first, more than doubling runner-up Country Pool Club Swim Team (1,485 points). (Photo provided by Mike Uchrin)

By Bill Alden

Things were a little choppy at the beginning of this summer for the Community Park Bluefish swim team.

“We had to overcome some adversity,” said CP Bluefish co-head coach Mike Uchrin. “It was cold at first, and then the sun came out and it was hazy. Then after that we had thunderstorms every day. We had a lot of challenging mental things to overcome at first.”

Overcoming those challenges, the Bluefish went 5-0 in Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division 1 dual meets to extend their winning streak to 40 with their last loss coming in 2014. Ending the season by hosting the PASDA championship meet, CP rolled to its eighth straight title, piling up 3,588 points in taking first, more than doubling runner-up Country Pool Club Swim Team (1,485 points).

Being at home for the PASDA meet helped spur the Bluefish to their dominant performance.

“I thought it went really well, we were really excited to be back here again,” said Uchrin. “We love hosting it. Being such a community team, our kids like to be able to bike to the pool. The kids swim hard to defend their home turf. We were really happy with how the results went and how hard the kids swam.”

The program’s depth once again made a big difference.

“We had 275 swimmers this year; last year we were at almost the exact same number and that was our biggest,” said Uchrin, who along with co-head coach Kelsey Schwimmer, a former Princeton High standout, led a staff that included 10 assistant coaches. “This right around ties the largest team we have ever had, which is really exciting because there are a lot of teams in PASDA that are struggling or have closed down. We are really excited and really happy that we are able to continue the momentum that we had last year.”

In the 6U boys, Manning Xia provided some exciting swims for CP, placing first on both the 25-yard freestyle and 25-yard backstroke.

“We were blown away by Manning this year, he really showed up,” said Schwimmer, noting that Xia was in his first year with the program. “I think he surprised everyone when he hopped into the pool. He set two records at champs, one of which was a league record for the entire PASDA in the backstroke.”

As for the 8U boys, Kian Martin took first in the 25 breaststroke and the 100 individual medley while Theodore Cotter finished third in both the 25 back and 25 breast.

“The 8-and-under boys were some of our kids who were there every week cheering their teammates on,” said Schwimmer. “Teddy and Kian did excellent. Kian actually won the PASDA MVP for 8-and-under boys.”

James Cotter and Tristan Wysocki led the way for the 10U boys with Cotter finishing first in the 25 breast and second in the 25 butterfly and Wysocki taking fourth in both the 25 back and the 100 IM.

“Both were awesome; they were great teammates too with the relays,” said Schwimmer of Cotter and Wysocki. “They were excellent.”

A trio of standouts stepped up for the 12U boys as Natan Wysocki placed first in the 50 back and second in the 100 IM with Nathan Ricciardi taking fourth in the 50 free and second in the 50 fly and Garik Zlotchew coming in second in the 50 fly and fifth in the 100 IM.

“We had a good team effort for that group, we ended up winning both of the relays,” said Uchrin. “Natan Wysocki had some really great swims for us. That was a deep group. They were a fun group — they cheered each other on, they worked hard together.”

Darren Elwood provided a highlight for the 14U boys, placing third in the 50 fly.

“That group had great attendance at those dual meets,” said Uchrin.“They cheered each other on, they worked hard. They were the embodiment of summer league in a lot of ways with the way that they worked together, built each other up, and had a lot of fun in the process.”

The pair of Kentaro Bauer and Mark Lackner starred for the 18U boys as Bauer placed first in the 50 fly, second in the 50 breast, and second in the 100 IM while Lackner took fourth in the 50 back and fifth in the 50 free.

“Kentaro did great, he set our team record in the 50 breaststroke which was awesome,” said Uchrin. “That was a great record; he was gunning for that and he got it. He really set the bar high and competed super hard. Mark really pushed hard, he surprised us a little bit. He finished strong and was a leader on both the relays.”

As for the Bluefish 6U girls, Alanis John proved to be a standout, taking third in the 25 free and second in the 25 back.

“Alanis was another one of those swimmers who stepped up in every meet,” said Schwimmer. “We had a smaller group of 6-and-unders this year, but they were really strong and came to everything that they could. Alanis was small, but she was really excited to swim and do everything she could.”

The pair of Alicia Ben and Alea Martin came up big for the 8U girls as Ben finished first in both the 25 fly and 100 IM with Martin taking first in the 25 free and second in the 25 fly.

“They were so strong, there was a lot of depth in that 8-and-under group,” said Schwimmer. “Alicia Ben stood out, she got the Most Valuable Player award for her age group. She also got a Bluefish record in the butterfly.”

The 10U girls were sparked by a trio of standouts as Alexis Julian took first in 25 free and 100 IM while Oceana Hsieh placed first in the 25 breast and the 25 fly and Gabriella Scarpinato finished second in the 25 back and third in the 100 IM.

“That group was so strong, I love those girls,” said Schwimmer. “They were such a tight knit group. They swim with each other, they practice with each other, and they are always cheering for each other. It is so fun to coach them. Alexis and Oceana both blew us away, they were co-MVPs for their age group.”

The 12U girls featured a one-two punch of Adalyn Ben and Syann Priester as Ben placed first in the 50 fly and 100 IM while Priester placed second in the 50 back.

“Adalyn won the MVP,” said Uchrin. “One of the most impressive things that tells you everything you need to know about how great that 11-12 group for us was that both of the relays won by over 10 seconds. That shows you the depth we have. They definitely swam very hard for one another, and you could see it in the results.”

The pair of Zoe Bitterman and Charlotte Flanagan swam hard for the 14U girls. Bitterman placed first in in the 50 back and first in the 50 fly while Flanagan came in second in the 50 back and third in the 100 IM.

“Zoe was excited to defend her crown; she is a great example of what this program is, she is a lifetime Bluefish,” said Uchrin. “Charlotte has been awesome, her backstroke is very good. I am really proud of the effort that she did this year, not just in champs but in all of the dual meets. She also really helped as a leader to bring that group together.”

The dominance of the Bluefish was exemplified by its 18U girls as Annie Flanagan placed first in the 50 free and in the 100 IM, while Sabine Ristad finished first in the 50 back and in the 50 fly and Piper Dubow took first in the 50 breaststroke.

“I work directly with that group and I am so proud of how they competed, they all did fantastic,” said Uchrin. “What I was really excited about is that we collectively won every 15-and-over girls’ event. Annie, Sabine and Piper each won the individual events.”

The trio built on strong efforts during the high school season over the winter as Flanagan and Ristad helped the Princeton High girls’ squad go undefeated on the way to a state championship while Dubow was a standout for the Pennington School.

“Annie and Sabine were co-MVPs which was exciting,” said Uchrin. “Annie is a good sprinter; one of my favorite things about Annie is that she is so competitive. She would do morning Bluefish practice and then would stay after and swim independently to do some long course work and then would go to her evening club practice. Piper is a lifetime Bluefish. This was her last year swimming before she goes to college at Middlebury. She has coached for us for a couple of years. I remember putting Piper into a Bluefish cap when she was 8 years old and here she is graduating for us. She was defending her crown in the 50 breast.”

In reflecting on the program’s success over the years, Uchrin cited the loyalty and enthusiasm swimmers like Dubow have brought to the Bluefish.

“We have been embraced by the community and you can see that,” said Uchrin. “We had such a great turnout of 10, 11, and 12-year-olds. We were getting almost entire school classes that registered for the team. We had entire groups of kids that all went swimming. That is part of what makes summer league so great and what has made our program do so well. The kids are able to come here and have a good time and get better at swimming. It is just part of summer in Princeton.”

For Schwimmer, being involved with the CP team is an annual highlight for her.

“I have been coaching since 2012; it is always my favorite part of the summer,” said Schwimmer, a 2014 PHS alumna. “I like seeing the same families come back year after year and hearing the kids tell me that they can’t wait to get started and to see all of their friends. I just love how families are telling their friends and getting their friends’ kids to join too because it has just been since a wonderful part of the summer for them. It makes us feel great about the work that we do.”

Uchrin, for his part, feels great about the resilient spirit displayed by his swimmers this summer.

“We were really able to get the job done and the kids had a ton of fun and that is what it is all about,” said Uchrin. “The winning streaks and all of that kind of stuff, that is not what we do. Summer league is about the idea that it doesn’t matter if you are a club swimmer or if you just joined, it doesn’t matter where you are from — this is a place where you come together, have a blast with your friends, and get a little better at swimming. I thought we overcame a lot to do that this year.”