A dozen members of the Orchard Park swimming and diving team are making the trip to Ithaca College for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships.
Along with a jumbo rubber duck with his own Instagram page.
“Humphrey the Duck is our team mascot,” junior Sara Conley said. “He’s been around for like eight years, passed down from captain to captain. We bring him to all our meets and he sits in the bleachers.”
Throughout the season, the Quakers have used Humphrey’s likeness to honor top performers.
“We have these swim caps we found that are a duck that looks like Humphrey,” coach Brett Norvilitis said. “Every week, we pick somebody who was outstanding at whatever, maybe a meet, a best time, or attitude, and we gave them the cap. It’s one of those fun things the team likes to rally around.”
Norvilitis has had plenty of outstanding efforts to choose from this season. Orchard Park went undefeated in dual meets, breaking several pool records around Western New York, and dominated at the ECIC and Section VI Class A championship meets.
The 12 state-qualifiers is the most Orchard Park has had in Norvalitis’ five seasons as coach, and he believes it might be the most in school history.
“We’ve usually taken around six, usually a relay and some individuals. Last year we took 10,” Norvilitis said. “This has to be one of the biggest groups ever.”
The Quakers’ 200 medley relay team of Ella Mikulec, Mackenzie Fischer, Paige Salmon and Katherine Jones has the best chance for a podium finish as the eighth seed in the state meet that begins Friday.
The 200 free relay team (Fisher, Isabel Sapio, Conley and Jones) and 400 free relay team (Mikulec, Conley, Allie McCune and Emily Blake) also will compete at states after winning sectional championships. Abby McClintock is a relay alternate.
Orchard Park will have an entrant in eight of nine individual events: Carissa Jantzi (diving), Blake (200 individual medley, 100 free), Jones (100 free, 50 free), Mikulec (100 free, 100 back), Fischer (100 breast, 50 free), Sapio (100 breast), Julie Filipski (100 breast), Conley (200 free), Salmon (100 fly) and Mia Bogulski (100 back).
“All the girls have been so fast, I would never think we’d have this many individuals going to states,” Fischer said. “The amount of time drops we’ve had and best times we’ve gone and people going in events we never even thought, it’s been crazy this year.”
“It’s really exciting,” said McCune, a senior captain. “It’s going to be super different from the other times because of how many we are having from the school go.”
Filipski said having so many teammates (and Humphrey) at states will make it feel somewhat like a regular meet.
“We swim with these girls all season long,” she said. “When it’s more of us, it feels normal. It doesn’t feel any added pressure.”
Norvilitis was impressed by how many individuals qualified for states early in the season.
“We had four cut times in their first four meets,” he said. “Usually it’s at the end. Once we saw how they are going fast really early, that was our tip-off of how good we could be.”
During preseason, assistant coach Bob Nowicki handed out team swim caps to wear during practice.
“You are swimming as team, so we should all wear the same caps,” Nowicki told them.
“It is uncommon during practice, you wear random suits and caps,” Norvilitis said. “It’s one of those spirit things they really embraced. They came together as a team quickly.”
Highlighting Humphrey the Duck and other ways the team has fun together has also helped the Quakers bond.
“It’s not a super-long season, but it’s a grind,” Norvilitis said. “We do six days a week, 6,000 yards a day. It’s a lot of yards, a lot of time in the pool. So that stuff that they think is fun is really beneficial.”
Conley said this is the both closest and most competitive team she has been a part of.
“I’m blessed to be on this team,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive of everyone’s success. Everyone is super competitive in practice and you are able to use people who are faster to your advantage. There is no hate for someone who is better.”
“It’s been a fantastic season,” Norvilitis said. “I never imagined it would be this good.”
Also competing at states from area schools:
200 medley relay — Iroquois, Hamburg, Sacred Heart, Lancaster
200 free — Alexis Trietley (Olean), Grace Wood (Southwestern), Allie Bashor (Starpoint), Abby Halsdorfer (Sacred Heart), Danielle Carlson (Niagara-Wheatfield)
200 IM — Molly Hewett (Lancaster), Alexandra Wheeler (Iroquois)
50 free — Karianne Yuchnitz (Panama), Gillian Boal (Kenmore West), Allison Stockwell (Jamestown), Grace Van Buren (Amherst), Makayla Scheu (Eden), Natalie Fosberg (Southwestern), Mary Brinker (East Aurora), Allison Lenda (Iroquois)
Diving — Lindsey Weissman (West Seneca East), Abigal Lisciandro (Panama), Brooke Eichel (Grand Island), Rachel Henning (Eden)
100 fly — Jessica Shine (Williamsville East), Monica McKie (Williamsville North), Liliana Dimmig (Sacred Heart), Lauren Levy (Buffalo Seminary), Kya Pawli (Frontier), Isabelle Lange (Clarence)
100 free — Mary Brinker (East Aurora), Allison Stockwell (Jamestown), Alexis Trietley (Olean), Gillian Boal (Kenmore West), Makayla Scheu (Eden), Grace Van Buren (Amherst), Allie Cashor (Starpoint), Elle Holland (Southwestern), Grace Wood (Southwestern), Danielle Carlson (Niagara-Wheatfield), Karianne Yuchnitz (Panama), Madeline Panus (Clarence)
500 free — Abby Halsdorfer (Sacred Heart), Lauren Spence (Sweet Home)
200 free relay — Sacred Heart, Iroquois, Clarence, Frontier
100 back — Allison Lenda (Iroquois), Megan Jermak (Nardin), Madison Kramer (Frewsburg), Natalie Fosberg (Southwestern), Kya Pawli (Frontier), Elle Holland (Springville), Molly Hewett (Lancaster)
100 breast — Jessica Humby (Hamburg), Michaela Morgus (Lancaster), Maya Flash (Sweet Home), Savannah Revelas (Sacred Heart), Victoria Prusaczyk (Lancaster), Bridget Zagrobelny (East Aurora)
400 free relay — Amherst, Iroquois, Clarence