By Mike Pidanick
As the defending champion in two events, expectations were great for Kenmore senior Ben Harper coming into this season’s event.
Harper repeated atop both the 50 and 100-meter freestyle races and also was part of a winning relay, headlining the Section VI swimming and diving championships on Wednesday at UB’s Alumni Arena Natatorium.
"I’m just really happy to repeat from last year," he said. "I just really tried to work hard on my fundamentals and just keep it strong all
Harper was named the event’s Most Outstanding Swimmer and took first place in the 50 freestyle in 21.27 seconds and after a short break, returned to the top spot on the podium with a time of 47.5 seconds in the 100 free. He also topped last year’s championship times. He won last year in the 50 free in 21.36 seconds and the 100 in 48 seconds.
"There was a little pressure," he said. "There are a lot of great competitors so you never know who’s going to come out on top. I’m really happy with the way things went."
He was also a part of Kenmore’s first-place 200 freestyle relay team, along with senior Matt Walker and juniors Brandon Garcia and Colin Janis, which finished in 1:29.75. Harper also qualified for states in the 100-yard breaststroke but did not race in that event at sectionals.
Walter also won a title for the combined Kenmore team in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1 minute, 0.67 seconds.
Meanwhile, Lancaster freshman may not have expected a championship in the 200-yard IM but coach Jeff Petherick had other visions. Turned out, coach knows best.
Hewitt, one of a number of talented youngsters on the Legends’ roster, won the race with a time of 2 minutes, 1.29 seconds.
"I didn’t expect to win," he said after taking a celebratory photo with teammates Aaron Gasiewicz and Kiernan Coyne, who also placed in the top eight in the event. "I just came in wanting to go as fast as I could and I had a good swim. It’s a great feeling."
With the championship, Hewitt earned an automatic bid to the NYSPHSAA Championships, set for Feb. 28 to March 2 at the Nassau Aquatic Center on Long Island. Although that time missed the state-qualifying mark of 2:00.63, each sectional champion is guaranteed a bid.
"I did expect it, honestly," Petherick said. "You always hope for the best but he was seeded well and a couple of the top guys that had already qualified for states weren’t swimming to give the chance for additional qualifier, which is great. He’s been looking strong all week, so I definitely had a good feeling."
Senior Christian Steiner of Hamburg also earned an automatic state tournament berth by winning the championship in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:49.83.
While some state qualifers skipped the sectional race, others used it as a tune-up. Williamsville South senior Nick D’Arrigo did just that in the 100 backstroke and got himself a championship with a time of 54.36 seconds.
"It felt great," he said. "I was just focusing on some stroke mechanics getting ready for the state meet. I was expecting to have a good race. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to win it, but I knew it was a possibility."
Earlier in the day, Lockport junior Jake Minnick repeated as the champion in the diving competition with a cumulative score of 486.45 for 11 dives. He also won sectionals last season after taking third as a freshman.
Other winners included: West Seneca’s Zachary Walters (100 butterfly) and Orchard Park’s Luke Sapio (500 freestyle). Sapio was also a part of the Quakers’ winning 400 freestyle relay in 3:19.27, joining Trevor Hoch, Joseph Blake and Patrick McCrone.
East Aurora won the 200-meter relay race as Chad Egloff, Charles Morris, William Herr and Ezra Webster finished in 1:39.3. The Blue Devils won the team competition with 317.5 points. OP was second with 212 and Hamburg third.