The Williamsville East boys swimming team has checked almost all the boxes up until this point to consider 2017-18 a dream season.
The Flames wrapped up their first undefeated regular season in 21 years in late January with a 12-0 record, which included wins over top programs Orchard Park and Hamburg in the span of nine days. They snatched the ECIC II division crown away from the Bulldogs for the first time in five years.
Senior Bryan Hong, classmate Michael Clough or freshman and younger brother Andrew Clough sit either first, second or third in Section VI in every individual swimming event and have a handful of school and pool records to their names.
That trio combines with junior William Eaton to form the fastest 200-yard medley relay team in Section VI, the only relay in the section to meet a state standard thus far. Senior Dylan Kim joins Hong and the Clough brothers for the top-ranked 200 and 400 freestyle relays in Section VI.
“It’s been amazing,” said coach Mike Doerfler, who has been at East since 1990. “They’re just a super bunch of kids. We had lofty goals from the beginning of the year. We obviously want to do as well as we can at the state meet and get as many points as we can there. We’ve just had a great core group of guys coming up, and this is our year we have to do it.”
With two and a half weeks and three championship meets to go, the ride isn’t over just yet. There’s still time to accomplish more.
All of 3.65 seconds is what separates the Flames from completing a feat not often seen in scholastic swimming – qualify for states in all 11 swimming events.
Andrew Clough has already met the state cut in the 200 and 500 free, 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. Michael Clough is qualified for the 100 butterfly and 100 back, and Hong in the 50 free and 100 butterfly.
That leaves four left: 100 free, 100 breaststroke and the 200 and 400 free relays.
Andrew Clough is .46 seconds away in the 100 free and .53 in the breaststroke. The 200 free relay is .92 seconds and the 400 free relay 1.74.
Section VI co-chair Tim Menges believes the most recent time a team has qualified for states in every event would have been by Orchard Park in the 1990s or Clarence in the 2000s.
“It is very unusual to be able to accomplish that goal,” Menges said. “As far as if it has been done before, there may have been some power teams in the 1980s and 1990s to have accomplished it. Also in the last decade there have been a few teams that may have come close with one or two guys doing most of the qualifying in multiple events. Regardless, it certainly does not happen every year.”
Will the Flames go for it is the question.
There are two chances left, first at the Section VI Class Championships this Friday and Saturday at Maryvale. Sectionals are Feb. 15-16 at the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena.
While it appears as though East has the potential to do so, Doerfler said it may not be in the team’s best interest.
Ask the standouts on the team, however, and they’re all for it.
“That would be awesome, really exciting just to bring a lot of people to states and swim with our teammates all the way throughout the season,” Michael Clough said.
“It would be awesome, you know, to go to states all together,” Hong added. “It’s a great experience with your teammates. Not only swimming, being together just brings together our friendship and it’s nice to have a good time with all your friends.”
One of Doerfler’s goals to start the season was to qualify all three relays for the Federation/NYSPHSAA Championships March 1-3 at the Nassau County Aquatic Center on Long Island.
That’s where the focus currently lies.
“I would say we want to make states in the 200 free and 400 free relay, so just practicing relay starts, transitions, just trying to get as fast as possible in those relays,” Michael Clough said. “Right now we’re training pretty hard in the water, but as we get closer to sectionals and states, we’ll start to taper off. So I would say that definitely helps us go faster, as we’re more and more rested. Just getting excited for the bigger meets is going to help us swim faster also.”
Williamsville East has historically had strong programs, but this particular group of Flames has distinguished itself as Section VI’s best in the eyes of their peers.
“They’re one of the best teams I’ve ever seen,” Hamburg coach Andy Godios said. “They have a really strong group of seniors and a freshman sensation in Andrew Clough. This is absolutely the best year they’ve had that I remember seeing.”
“Will East, you can tell they’re a very well-coached team,” Orchard Park coach Phil Aronica said. “They do a tremendous job with not only coaching the swimmers and great athletes, but they’re great kids too. Of course we want to compete and beat them, but we’re rooting on the success they’ve been having.”
And hope to continue having as the season hits the homestretch.
“They’ll rank up there at states this year and possibly break sectional records in the relays,” Menges said. “Quite honestly, they have a shot at winning almost every event at the sectional championship. They’ve come a long way. This wave of talent is a great collection.”