During a lengthy, emotional ceremony preceding the Tonawanda boys swimming team's first senior night in about a decade, Superintendent George Batterson said the meet was even more meaningful because of the opponent, East Aurora.
"They're an incredible swim team," Batterson said. "They never lose."
Batterson turned out to be right.
East Aurora won four of the last seven events, but more importantly, took two of the top three places in all of those races to propel it to a 59-43 victory Friday evening before more than 200 packed into Tonawanda's Edward J. Leibinger Natatorium. The victory gave East Aurora the ECIC IV championship, extending its streak of ECIC division titles to 37 straight years.
"It was a great meet -- the kids were excited for it," said first-year coach and 1990 grad Rob Gipe. "We had our 100 free drop a half-second, we had an eighth-grader take second in 100 fly, our two 500 free guys had their best times, and the 200 free relay had its best time."
Ironically, the run by East Aurora (11-0 overall, 5-0 ECIC IV) began after Tonawanda's seniors were honored during the post-diving break. The Warriors' senior trio is more special than most -- it was part of a four-swimmer team during the program's return to competition in 2002-03 under coach Jim Balcolm. There had been no program for the previous five seasons, but it returned after lobbying by parents, including booster club President Grace Hogenkamp.
Since Tonawanda's pool has five lanes, four-lane scoring was used: four points for first place, three for second and one for third; the breakdown is 6-3-1 for relays.
Tonawanda (9-2, 3-1) had a 22-20 lead following the diving competition, won by Warriors freshman Vinnie Bartolomeo (196.80). Drew Hogenkamp, Tim Harroun and Randall Snodgrass began their senior night with a win along with junior Wade Weber in the 200-yard medley relay. Hogenkamp and Harroun finished 1-2 in the 200 individual medley. For East Aurora, freshman Taylor Hogenkamp (Drew's cousin) won the 200 freestyle and Luke Macleod won the 50 free.
After the diving break, East Aurora took 10 of a possible 15 places in the next five races to take a meet-clinching 52-32 lead.
Ryan O'Connor won the 100 butterfly while eighth-grader Jim Sundquist took second; Taylor Hogenkamp and Barrett Schwalenberg finished 1-2 in the 100 free; Dan Dayton and Chris Lehmann were 2-3 in the 500 free behind winner Drew Hogenkamp; East Aurora took first and third in the 200 free relay, with Taylor Hogenkamp, Lehmann, Schwalenberg and Macleod winning; and O'Connor and Sundquist took 1-2 in the 100 backstroke.
Tonawanda closed the meet with wins in the 100 breaststroke (Harroun) and 400 free relay (Bartolomeo, Weber, Drew Hogenkamp, Snodgrass).
The meet began with a group of about 30 Tonawanda swimming alumni introduced at poolside, including 1957 grad Cliff Strehlow, who wore a white sweater with a maroon "T" with "Champs '57" embroidered on it, 1962 grad Ken Zuhr, part of Tonawanda's last undefeated team, and 1968 grad Joe Leibinger, the son of the man for whom the pool is named.
"It's hard to be upset about the loss," said Balcolm, "when everything else is so amazing."