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Youth movement at Orchard Park boys swimming includes the coach

There’s a youth movement at Orchard Park this season, and not just because the Quakers graduated 13 seniors, all of whom qualified for states last year.

The boys swimming program has a new coach for the first time 1981, with 2010 grad Phil Aronica taking over for the retired Art Aungst.

Aronica swam for Aungst for six years before going onto swim Division I at the University at Buffalo. He was an assistant under his mentor for the last two seasons after graduating from UB in 2014.

“Working with Art, it was a great experience and I definitely learned a lot,” said Aronica, who still holds Section VI records in the 100 backstroke and the 200 medley relay. “Swimming six years with him was one thing, but it meant a lot to start coaching the team I grew up competing on and providing any information or insight I could.”

The Quakers have a few standouts in juniors Joe Blake (200 IM and 100 butterfly) and Trevor Hoch (50 and 100 freestyle), but the team’s strength comes from its depth of underclassmen.

More than three quarters of the 29-man roster qualified for last Saturday’s ECIC Championships, which the Quakers won despite placing first in just one event (Jack Thomas in 1-meter diving).

In this 2010 photo, Phil Aronica is congratulated by Orchard Park coach Art Aungst after winning the 50-yard freestyle state championship at Erie Community College's Flickinger Center. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News}

Orchard Park standout swimmer Joe Blake. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

“It’s weird this year with having to develop such a young team,” Aronica said. “The average age is 15 years old, so we’re really relying on a lot of different guys to step up and do their part.”

While the high-end talent isn’t quite there, there are advantages when it comes to having a young squad.

“What’s really nice is because they’re younger, they’re raw in a lot of swimming,” Aronica said. “They’re more willing to make changes whether it’s technique or trainingwise. It’s awesome to see, and they look up to Joe and Trevor and realize that they came through the program.

“They understand they have to step up their game to ensure the success we’ve had in past years. I’ve watched them literally go from boys to young men in a short amount of time, knowing what they need to do and their responsibilities.”

Others who have performed well this year include senior Phil Choroser (200 IM, 100 backstroke) and eighth-grader Josh Stegner (200 and 500 free).

Orchard Park’s primary relay is the 200 medley with Blake, Choroser, Hoch and freshman Luke Sapio, the younger brother of girls standouts Isabelle (junior at OP) and Olivia (freshman at UB). They swam a season-best 1:42.32 at ECICs, which is second in Section VI but still 1.9 seconds away from the state standard.

In this 2010 photo, Phil Aronica is congratulated by Orchard Park coach Art Aungst after winning the 50-yard freestyle state championship at Erie Community College's Flickinger Center. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News}

Current Orchard Park coach Phil Aronica poses for a feature shot for The News in 2009. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The Quakers have two more shots to accomplish that – this weekend at the Class Championships at Maryvale and the week after at sectionals at UB, where Aronica will make a return to familiar surroundings.

“It’s awesome,” Aronica said. “UB is a beautiful facility. It’s going to be different, but I think the change of environment and change in venue will bring that much more excitement and bring that extra bit of adrenaline that some of the swimmers will need to qualify for the state meet. Across the entire section, I think it’s a great thing to have the meet at that pool.”

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