EAST MEADOW — Mark Crocker couldn’t have asked for much more out of his final varsity swim meet.
The Lockport senior has spent the last four years training both in and out of the pool to be at peak performance when the state championships arrive. But he had additional motivation this year, knowing this was his final chance. Crocker has had his eyes set on improving every year, and this year that meant only one thing — the opportunity to compete in the finals of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships.
Crocker achieved that not only once, but twice in his third trip to the state championships. The senior swam in the finals heat in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly Saturday, placing eighth in the federation in the 50 free (21.49) and fifth in the 100 butterfly (49.97) Saturday at the Nassau Aquatic Center on Long Island.
His 50 free time was fifth for public school swimmers and third in the 100 butterfly.
“I couldn’t have gone out a better way, I don’t think,” Crocker said. “That was more than I wished for, more than I expected, and I’m usually pretty good at calling my own times. And that exceeded my expectations.”
Crocker was pleasantly surprised by his first appearance in finals heats. He improved upon finishing ninth among public school swimmers in the 100 butterfly last year and 20th in the 50 free.
“Just walking out for my first ‘A’ final ever, it gave me a different feeling,” Crocker said. “It gave me feels back when I was a freshman walking out for my first ‘A’ finals in sectionals.”
For Lockport coach John Sullivan, everything Crocker achieved was earned. Sullivan credited the senior’s determination and work ethic, which often included workouts before school and then team practices after school.
“He committed himself to getting bigger and stronger and he was able to apply more force into the water,” Sullivan said. “It really paid off.”
Crocker’s main goal this season was to swim the 100 fly in less than 50 seconds, which he achieved Saturday in an All-America consideration time.
“For this type of meet, it’s just a cumulative of hours and hours and hours of training and just for a race that’s under a minute,” Crocker said. “But I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’ll ride off this happiness for a while.”
Crocker wasn’t alone on the championship podium Saturday, as the Orchard Park 200 medley relay team opened the day with a season-best time of 1:36.90. OP's team of Patrick McCrone, Luke Sapio, Andrew Descovich and Josh Stegner placed seventh in the federation, and fourth among public schools in the championships.
“In the beginning of the year, if I was asked if we’d go 1:36, I would say ‘No way,’ so I think it was great,” Stegner said. “We definitely weren’t expecting it, and it was just overall a great swim.”
“We were very happy with that,” Sapio said. “That was our fastest time all year. Our splits were really good, and it was good to move up in the ranks like that.”
But the swimmers weren’t alone on the podium. In typical Orchard Park swimming tradition, the student-athletes brought their brightly colored stuffed dragon, Tyrone, to celebrate the accomplishment.
Sapio and Stegner said Tyrone has been given from a graduating senior to a junior for years. It’s a fun part of the program’s tradition the team rallies around.
“Lots of history behind him,” Stegner said. “It was great to bring him up on the podium.”
And with Sapio, a junior, and Stegner, a sophomore, both returning next year, Orchard Park looks to improve on its placing next winter.
“Honestly, in our relays next year, I think we are hoping to be top two in the medley,” Sapio said. “We are definitely hoping to place very high next year.”
“Oh, No. 1,” Stegner added.