There is a sense of urgency, a feeling among Western New York's boys swimming coaches that if they don't win the New York State title this weekend, it could be a long wait.
The future is now for the Section VI team that will represent Western New York on Friday and Saturday at the 41st New York State Swimming and Diving Championships at the ECC-City campus' Burt Flickinger Aquatic Center.
"The kids are on a mission. We've got to go there and get the job done," said Section VI chairman Jeff Banks, who was studying the entries on Sunday night. "We have as good a chance of winning as anyone else. We have seven entries in relays, that's not too bad. Our diving is strong, we've got eight kids in the 100 (freestyle). We're all right. No, I think we're better than all right."
Approximately 270 swimmers from all 11 sections and New York City's PSAL will compete in the event. The diving trials are Friday at 10 a.m., followed by the swimming trials and the Federation meet at 3:30 p.m. The finals in the NYSPHSAA are Saturday at noon.
In a new format, the New York State Federation Championship will be decided on Friday night with swimmers from the CHSAA, PSAL and NYSPHSAA all competing. Catholic swimmers will not compete Saturday. The NYSPHSAA title will be decided that day.
Consider these factors working in favor of a Section VI team that is both experienced and deep: Section VI has the home pool advantage at ECC. Orchard Park, a local power which is usually good for a state title or two, has nine seniors on its roster, including three All-Americans. Section VI boasts the top-ranked diver in the state and the fastest time in the state in the 50-yard freestyle. Of the 39 swimmers on the Section VI team, 23 have been to states before.
But will it be enough to dethrone Section V? The Rochester-area team is going for its sixth straight title.
Section VI has finished second the past three years to Rochester and hasn't won the team title since 1995. Section V is especially strong this year in the three relay events, which count for twice as many points than individual events.
Section V qualified nine relay teams. Fairport has the fastest time in the state in the 400 freestyle relay (3:13.69) and in the 200 free relay (1:26.79). In the 200 medley relay, Webster is ranked second (1:39.90).
By contrast, Buffalo's top three relays are No. 2 in the 400 free relay (Orchard Park, 3:13.87), No. 3 in the 200 free relay (Clarence, 1:28.83), and No. 5 in the 200 medley (Clarence, 1:40.48).
"We don't want to count out Section IX, but our big rival in most years has been Section V," said Orchard Park coach Dale Heimlich. "We have the best chance we've had in years to do well in the states as a team. We've got a good number of swimmers that should place in the finals."
Orchard Park's 400 free relay is the three-time defending state champion. Jeff Organisciak, Mark Bender and Matt Szrama are all back from a team that went 3:13.02. The 200 medley relay, which finished second last year, returns Organisciak, Matt Szrama and Phil Szrama. Organisciak, a senior, has competed in the state meet every year since eighth grade.
Section VI should also score well in diving. Sophomore Josh Olson of Williamsville North is ranked first in the state. Olson broke the ECIC and Section VI records at the ECIC Championships on Feb. 17. His 11-dive score of 565.10 shattered Casey Gon's (Cheektowaga) ECIC record of 517 and broke Randy Kozlowski's (Dunkirk) Section VI mark of 563.
If the board bounces its way, North could have two state diving champions this school year. If Olson wins, he'll join Tracy Hoover, who won the state title during the girls season in the fall. Section VI diving champion Pat Lee (North Tonawanda) is coming off a school-record 519.05 at Saturday's sectionals.
Junior D.J. Hogenkamp of East Aurora, who was third last year in the backstroke in 53.11, turned in a career-best 52.60 at sectionals. "I have to take it all out," said Hogenkamp. "I've got to think about what I have to do, and not think about the competition. I've got to focus."
Organisciak (100 free), Seth Johnson of Frewsburg (50 free), and Brian Calandra of Frontier (100 butterfly) are each looking to improve on their fourth-place finishes at states last year. Matt Szrama, seventh last year in the 500 free, hopes to make his second straight final. Dave Leibers of Jamestown, who was eighth last year in the 200 IM, is swimming the best times of his career.
McKinley senior Tommy Seay enters states as the only double-winner from the sectional meet. He has the state's fastest time in the 50 free at 21.22, and Amherst freshman Mark Rubin, making his third trip to states, is second at 21.68. Johnson is third at 21.70.
For the second year in a row, swimmers from the state's Catholic schools who are not members of a section will compete. The Msgr. Martin Association will be represented by St. Joe's junior Mike Petock, the MVP of the All-Catholic meet, who will swim in the 200 free and 500 free. Junior Mike Keitz of St. Joe's will swim in the 50 and 100.
There will be plenty of out-of-town talent coming to Buffalo this weekend. Senior Peter Politi of Newburgh Free Academy (Section IX) has the fastest time in the state in the 100 free (46.56), the 500 free (4:39.24) and is No. 2 in the 200 free (1:42.68). He's entered in the 100 and 200.
Senior All-American Brendan Neligan from Archbishop Molloy of the CHSAA has the fastest time in the state in the 200 IM (1:52.69) and 500 free (4:27.12). Another swimmer to watch is junior David Kahn of Port Jefferson (Section XI), who is ranked among the top five in the state in five events.