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Buffalo Public Schools girls swim team springs ahead into fall season

Alize Allen set 10 pool records, eight league marks and earned a Division I scholarship during her scholastic career. There’s one thing the well-decorated swimmer failed to achieve, however.

She never qualified for the Section VI swimming and diving championships, but that’s not her fault.

Allen swam for City Honors, a member of the Buffalo Public Schools’ Syracuse Cup league in which boys and girls compete during the winter months. Since girls swimming is a fall sport in the state, the only accolades she could earn were Syracuse Cup-based during the season.

While Allen earned more than her share of individual honors during the USA Swimming club season with Erie Community College-based Star, it still wasn’t fair the 2016 graduate never got a chance to compete for a Section VI title like her suburban female counterparts.

That injustice will never happen again.

The Buffalo Public Schools has taken the plunge, as it has a team participating during the girls’ season for the first time. The Buffalo Public Schools district swimming team, officially known as City Honors, features 28 girls from select schools (City Honors, Olmsted, Hutch-Tech, I-Prep/Grover and middle schools Futures and Discovery). The Centaurs are classified as an independent team.

Although the team carries a 1-2 mark into Thursday’s meet at Clarence, it didn’t take long for City Honors to make history.

Aside from the team’s debut last week – a loss to Mount St. Mary plus a win over Buffalo Seminary in a tri-meet, the Centaurs wasted little time showing they belonged in the deep end of the pool. In the program’s very first race, the 200 medley relay team of Mei Brenner-Herkey, Julia Penchaszadeh Robert, Isabelle Brown and Cecilia Brown qualified for the Section VI championships Nov. 3-4 at Erie Community College’s Flickinger Center. The foursome posted a winning time of 2 minutes, 13.79 seconds.

The section standard for the event is 2:14.11.

“I think it’s really important for us to have gotten that sectional time because I don’t think many people expected us to do very well,” said Penchaszadeh, a junior. “We did very well in our first meet. It was really important to show the world, Section VI that we can do it.”

“It means so much,” added Isabelle Brown, a senior. “I’m really excited to go out there and show them what we’re made of.”

At the moment that’s the only event in which City Honors has hit the qualifying mark, but the Centaurs will have many more opportunities to earn sectional spots. Aside from a schedule that includes meets against Lewiston-Porter, Williamsville East, Depew, Cleveland Hill and Maryvale, the Centaurs will participate in their first invitational Saturday at Frewsburg. They also will swim in the Olean Relays.

City Honors came close to earning a sectional spot in another event last week. Brenner-Herkey flirted with the 27.32 standard in the 50-yard freestyle – missing it by just 1.63 seconds.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for these kids to swim in the fall,” said Jackie Yager, who shares coaching duties with Ann Crittenden. “This whole team is going to boost morale in the Syracuse Cup. It’s going to show girls if you push hard, it’s possible to qualify for sectionals.”

While Buffalo Public Schools Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd said the district began gathering data a couple of years ago regarding the girls’ abilities to compete with the rest of the area’s best, it wasn’t until last year when officials decided to go for it, with final approval coming last May.

The move is long overdue.

For one, boys swimmers have always had chances to qualify for sectionals during their league-meet slate since Syracuse Cup coincided with the section and state season. Then there’s the obvious: Giving boys a chance to potentially compete for a spot in sectionals and not doing the same for the girls simply hasn’t been fair.

One can easily understand why Buffalo took a cautious approach instead of making a big splash long ago. The district not only wants its student-athletes to have fun, but also have a chance at succeeding, too.

Buffalo schools have proved they can hold their own in football, boys basketball, boys soccer and track. But there have been other sports in which Buffalo schools have lagged behind their suburban counterparts (baseball, softball except for City Honors and girls soccer).

Lloyd’s fears were put to rest based on his experiences watching his own small children on the club circuit. He saw the fun they had and how their skills improved quickly.

“My kids are 8 and 10 years old,” he said. “If they can do it, I believe our Buffalo Public Schools kids can have success.”

The district also held summer camps and clinics the past three years to prepare for a potential move.

While Allen now attends Canisius College, her success and Lloyd’s behind-the-scenes work broke down a door that had been previously closed.

“She really paved the way … and she really should have had the opportunity to go to sectionals last year,” Isabelle Brown said of Allen, a former teammate. “But now that I’m a senior, it means so much to me to be able to do it in my last year and I’m really thankful for her.”

“It was great to have someone like Alize’s dad making the push,” Yager said. “Aubrey really led the charge to make this team possible. It’s a really great opportunity for the girls.”

One that Yager hopes will lead to more athletes coming out for the program. Yager has a good feel for the talent in the Syracuse Cup – even though she doesn’t remember each swimmer’s name. But she knows there are some who took a wait-and-see-how-the-team-does-in-Year-One approach and aren’t part of this historic venture.

“I think those who were questioning to come out for the team will see how successful these girls are and (we’ll) have more girls try out,” Yager said.

That’s what Lloyd wants to happen.

He hopes the numbers will go up to the point where the district has to field a second team sooner rather than later.

Right now, he and the Centaurs are enjoying the moment that’s been a long time coming.

“The parents are very happy,” Lloyd said. “The student-athletes are very committed. … I think we’ve got something good going on here.”

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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