Ed Maynard has been around the Western New York swimming scene long enough to recognize when he has a special collection of talent.
The 2017-18 Canisius Crusaders don’t just stand out in his mind. They’re right at the very top.
“We have 15 seniors on this team and a good compliment of juniors, sophomores and freshmen that are pretty impressive as well,” Maynard said. “I’ve been coaching high school swimming for 25 years – at Niagara Falls since 1994 and this is my second year at Canisius – and this is the best team I’ve ever coached, without a doubt. It’s the most-talented and deepest team I’ve ever had.”
Headlining this year’s group individually is junior Dan Bowen and seniors Jake Ruffolo and Christian Balkin.
Bowen does a little bit of everything for the Crusaders, and he does it all well. He entered the week fifth in the state rankings in the 100-yard backstroke, sixth in the 100 individual medley and ninth in the 100 butterfly (first in WNY in all three).
“If the state championships were tomorrow, we’d be leaning toward the IM and back,” Maynard said.
The top events for Ruffolo, who signed with St. Bonaventure back in October, are the 100 and 200 freestyle, where he’s currently 17th in the state in both. His 100 free time is tops in the area. He’s also a state qualifier for the 100 butterfly.
Balkin is headed to Canisius College next year and is qualified for states in the 50 freestyle.
The Crusaders, who won their 16th straight Monsignor Martin title Tuesday, are the only local team to have all three of its relays meet the standard for the Federation/NYSPHSAA Championships March 2-3 at the Nassau County Aquatic Center on Long Island.
The 200 medley relay team of Bowen, Ruffolo, Balkin and senior Christian Granto is currently 14th in the state, while the 200 and 400 freestyle relays consisting of the same swimmers are 10th. All three have the top times in Western New York.
Canisius looks to continue its strong showings in weekend meets when it heads to Erie, Pa., Saturday to face a powerful Cathedral Prep team.
The Crusaders were dominant in winning their first-ever appearance at the Falcon Invitational held at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, on Jan. 20.
“SPIRE is one of the Olympic training centers, so when I saw that it was available we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to compete at an Olympic pool,” Maynard said.
The Crusaders also won the Lockport Sprint Invitational on Dec. 2 by placing first in six of 10 events and setting four meet records. On Jan. 27, they came in second at the Blazer Invitational at Cleveland State University against top Ohio competition.
Elsewhere, St. Joe’s is wrapping up one of its most successful campaigns in recent memory. The team has developed some depth the past two years behind senior Jack Westner and junior Sam Baxter.
“Throughout the season, we have been able to build upon our skill set and confidence,” Marauders coach Jeff Banks said. “We have had some pretty exciting meets where several races have come down to the last length and we have been very fortunate to have won a majority of those races.”
St. Francis coach John Overfield is looking to grow on his current roster of 13, which includes senior Matthew Duggan, junior Ben Heltz, sophomore Blaise Strittmatter and freshman Charlie Cich.