It's not what separates Orchard Park and St. Joe's as public and Catholic schools that makes their impending swim meet this season so intriguing. Rather, it's what they have in common.
The Quakers and the Marauders have two of the best swimming programs in Western New York. According to athletic directors at both schools, the two teams have never competed against each other. That will change on Feb. 10, when they have a meet scheduled at the Burt Flickinger Aquatic Center in downtown Buffalo.
Orchard Park is chasing its 10th consecutive ECIC I title while St. Joe's has won the All-Catholic meet for the past three years.
"We're just putting a lot of good swimmers together. I stay out of all that political stuff," Orchard Park coach Dale Heimlich said. "They've been one of the best teams in the area the last few years. You want to create some excitement about swimming around here. This can only be good for swimming."
In his four seasons, St. Joe's coach Ron Zugelder has never faced Orchard Park, but not for lack of effort. He said he approached Heimlich early in the scheduling process to book the Quakers.
"I've always wondered how we would do. You do it on paper, but it's different than swimming the meet," said Zugelder, whose team has started 4-0. "You always compare yourself to the best teams, and historically, Orchard Park has been the best. When you swim a great team in a great pool, it's conducive to great times -- that's our approach."
Other public schools on St. Joe's non-league schedule this season are Lake Shore, East Aurora, Amherst and Depew.
St. Joe's isn't the only tough non-leaguer on the Quakers' schedule. Section V power Pittsford comes to town Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. Pittsford beat Orchard Park, 113-72, in 1997, handing OP its only loss of the decade in its own pool.
For the first time in Catholic school swimming history, the season won't end with the All-Catholic meet, this year scheduled for Feb. 8 at ECC. New York State is allowing Catholic schools that are not members of the Section to form one team and compete in the public school state meet, which this year happens to be in Buffalo. Catholic schools from Buffalo, New York City and Long Island will have a paper meet based on times from their respective All-League meets to decide who makes the Catholic state team.
"At least now, the boys have a goal," said Ken Kalinowski, St. Joe's assistant athletic director.
As league meets in Western New York kick into high gear, here's a look at some of the area's top swimmers.
Orchard Park looks golden to keep its string of ECIC I titles alive. The Quakers' roster of 31 includes three All-Americans from its state championship 400 freestyle relay team: junior Jeff Organisciak, junior Matt Szrama and senior Ryan Orser. Senior diver Jim Taravella no doubt will account for some points this year with a very high degree of difficulty in his repertoire.
"I feel we have more depth this year than ever before," said Heimlich. "I've never dealt with a more motivated team. They get in the water, boom, boom, boom. It's absolutely wonderful. We don't have a (Matt and Greg) Stone or Mike Jimenez (past state champions), but we're very solid in every event."
Junior Dave Liebers of Jamestown is the defending Section VI champion in the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. . . . East Aurora has a strong nucleus with sophomore D.J. Hogancamp, senior Jon Marchetta and senior Andy Dotterweich. The Blue Devils won their 31st ECIC title in a row last year. . . . Frontier has sophomore Jamie Miller, who is strong in the 200IM. . . . Amherst is the favorite in ECIC III with state-team swimmers senior Peter Zeitler and eighth-grader Mark Rubin. . . . Tonawanda and Lackawanna have dropped their programs, leaving ECIC III with five teams.
Niagara Frontier League
The league's premier swimmer is senior Matt Nalbone of Niagara Falls/LaSalle. Nalbone is the defending Section VI champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles. . . . Two-time defending champion Kenmore West joins Niagara Falls/LaSalle, Lockport and North Tonawanda as title contenders. . . . Kenmore West is led by sophomore Chris O'Neill, a returning NFL all-star in the 500 free. . . . Watch for senior Mike Yacos of Lockport to win his share of freestyle events.
Msgr. Martin Association
St. Joe's senior Jamie Garcia gives the Marauders a lot of versatility, specializing in the sprints. Sophomore Aaron Ortwein will be tough to beat in the 100 fly and 100 back. Sophomore Mike Petock is the defending All-Catholic champion in the 200 free and 500 free. . . . Senior Aaron Krause of Gow won the 100 back at last year's All-Catholic meet. . . . After two years off where he swam club, Mike Willats of St. Francis returns for his senior year.
The road to the N-O title goes through Albion with the Purple Eagles chasing their sixth consecutive crown. Albion has a 77-1-1 record during that stretch, which includes a 29-league meeting winning streak. Albion is led by fifth-year swimmer Kadi Diminuco and junior Jennie Webster, a two-time N-O champion in the 100 breast.
Buffalo Public Schools
Hutch-Tech has won the past two Syracuse Cup titles, beating rival City Honors both times. The Engineers will be without one of WNY's top swimmers, Karolina Bazylewicz, who was undefeated as a high school swimmer. Bazylewicz has opted for the challenges of the Sweet Home Aquatic Club. . . . City Honors senior Steve Cammarata is a defending Cup champion in the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle. The Centaurs have one of the best young swimmers in the city with freshman Lauren Hill. . . . Junior Sarah Fleming is back after breaking the city record last year in the 50 butterfly (:30.32). . . . Tommy Seay of McKinley looks to make an impact at sectionals in the back and breast. . . . It's likely the Syracuse Cup will be decided when Hutch-Tech and City Honors meet Feb. 3 at ECC at 3:45 p.m. The All-High meet is Feb. 7 at Erie Community College at 3:45.
Section VI won the bid to host the New York State meet for 2000 and 2001. This year's 40th annual event will be at the Burt Flickinger Aquatic Center on the Erie Community College City campus March 3-4. ECC is also the site of the 42nd annual Section VI meet Feb. 24-26. . . . . . . The Buffalo Public Schools and Niagara-Orleans girls do not participate in the fall's Section VI meet because they swim during the winter season. So they've decided to swim against each other in a postseason meet Feb. 10 at Barker.