Save the dates
Class Championships - Feb. 3 (diving at Maryvale) and Feb. 4 (Class A - Clarence; Class B - Maryvale; Class C - Newfane); Section VI Championships - Feb. 13-14 (ECC City Campus); State Championships - March 2-4 (Nassau County Aquatic Center, Long Island, NY).
Returning Section VI champions
200 IM - Michael Maurer of Hamburg; Diving - Tim Finley of Williamsville East; 100 Fly - Seth Farrand of Olean; 100 Back - Farrand; 100 Breast - Luke Kennedy of Hamburg.
Defending Section VI champions in Class Championships
A - Orchard Park; B - Starpoint; C - Frewsburg/Southwestern.
What teams are good?
The three-way race between Hamburg, Orchard Park and Williamsville East should be a good one. In Class B, East Aurora always seems to have an endless amount of athletes, and some of them are swimmers. The Blue Devils will be contenders for honors in February, along with Williamsville South and Olean. In Class C, Springville's depth makes it a threat. But Cleveland Hill is always in the mix, and Frewsburg/Southwestern are solid as well.
Monsignor Martin's best
Canisius seems to be loaded every year. This time the Crusaders are 1.5 seconds faster at the 400 Free relay than any team in the area. Jake Ruffalo and Dan Bowen are the standouts, posting excellent times in several different events. Ruffolo is four seconds faster than anyone's reported time in the 200 Free among Section VI swimmers, and Bowen has the best local time in the 100 Fly. Meanwhile, Max Strittmatter of St. Francis is one of Western New York's best in the 500 Free.
Dive right in
A swim team's divers are something like goaltenders in hockey. They don't quite fit in with the rest of the squad.
Williamsville East coach Mike Doefler has the area's best diver in Finley, but he's not taking much of the credit for Finley's outstanding performance during his high school career.
"We don't have a separate coach for him," Doefler said. "We do the best we can. Timmy dives for a club team. He has a great gymnastics background."
Divers also have a more difficult road to travel if they want to reach the state championships. They need to complete 11 dives in a competition in order to post a qualifying score for the states, but dual meets only have six dives per performer.
Last weekend's Lockport Invitational "was Tim's first chance to do 11 dives," Doefler said. "They don't have many chances to qualify, but swimmers can do it at any dual meet. The divers usually wait until the championships to make it."
The standards get tougher for the swimmers as they move forward. Let's use the 200 Free as an example.
In the Class championships, a swimmer needs a 2:05 time in Class A to earn an invitation. But it's a little slower in Class B (2:09.5) and Class C (2:16.5). Then to reach the sectional championship, that same swimmer must be under 1:59.99 to qualify. For the states the magic number drops all the way down to 1:47.60.
The average of the state's top 30 times is often used to calculate the qualifying standards. This year the numbers didn't change from 2016, which is unusual. The times usually get faster.
Ever wonder about how many swimmers there are on a team? Coaches usually get a touch greedy when it comes to numbers, but they make the best out of what they have.
"We've got 20 swimmers, and we've been smaller than that," Doefler said. "The bigger teams are up around 30. We could use a few more."
But swimming is one of the few sports where the "active roster" slowly shrinks in the postseason. Some athletes aren't good enough to qualify for postseason events, so their year effectively ends at the end of the regular season.
"I kind of like it," Orchard Park's Art Aungst said. "We have some guys who will be done after the ECICs and sectionals. As the competitions gets progressively faster, the group gets a little smaller. We can focus a little bit more on those who are left."
One team from the Southern Tier now draws from six different school districts. Dunkirk, Fredonia, Forestville, Silver Creek and Cassadaga Valley have been joined by Brocton this season. The combined enrollment puts the squad on the top of the Class B listings. The other merger this year added Maple Grove to Panama and Chautauqua Lake.
With only three classes, success can depend on a little luck in the numbers. Class A is for school districts between 734 (Grand Island) and 1,506 (Niagara Falls) students. If Grand Island had eight fewer students, it would have been the biggest school in Class B and competing against districts such as Albion (457) and Depew (445).
Who will be boys swimming's Prep Talk Player of the Year?
Kennedy of Hamburg is one of the favorites, especially if he becomes an All-American. But Williamsville South's Anthony Marinello, Orchard Park's Alec Hoch, Canisius' Ruffalo and Olean's Farren are really good. And an argument could be made that diver Tim Finley dominates his specialty more than any other competitor. The postseason will decide the winner here.