Southern Regional Boys Crush Competition at Ocean County Swim Meet

TWICE IS NICE: The Southern Regional boys swim team gathers after capturing the Ocean County championship on Jan. 22. The Rams cruised to the title with a school record 391 points. (Photo courtesy Patrick Craig)
During the past four seasons, Southern Regional boys swim coach Patrick Craig’s main priority has been to get the Rams under his watch to work hard and believe they can achieve great things in the pool. It’s been a process, but Craig’s program now is a consistent force at the highest levels.
“Our guys have shown what they’re capable of,” Craig said after the Rams captured the Ocean County championship on Jan. 22. “We’ve upgraded this year. We have three club swimmers, but otherwise we have 27 other kids who just work hard during the season to be their best. We have a lot of diversity on this team, and they love a challenge.”
Two years ago, when the Rams reached the NJSIAA South Group A title contest before they were bludgeoned by Cherry Hill East, that was a glimpse of what Craig wanted as the future for his program – they weren’t always flashy, but they were effective. They pushed limits and succeeded. This year, with a largely different group of swimmers leading the way, Southern continues to push.
On Saturday, the Rams not only won the county title for a second straight time – the county meet wasn’t contested last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – but literally crushed the competition, amassing a school record 391 points. In comparison, second-place Central Regional and third-place Donovan Catholic scored 217 and 216 points, respectively, while Toms River South accumulated 208 and Barnegat was a distant fifth with 165 points.
“Our guys wanted to prove that what we did two years ago wasn’t a fluke,” Craig said. “They were hungry. They were ready. They’ve worked and they were focused. Two years ago, we won with 332 points. On Saturday, our guys crushed it, and it wasn’t a contest. They made a statement.”
Paced by the core group of seniors, the Rams broke or tied six school records, and Sean White became Southern’s first male swimmer to qualify for the NJSIAA individual championships. The Rams began their onslaught by taking first in the 200-yard medley relay when seniors Kristian Werner, White, Jack Matthews and Cole Nemes clocked a school-record time of 1:42.50.
BIG TIME: Southern senior Sean White not only broke the school’s 100-yard breaststroke record during the Ocean County Championships, he earned a spot in the state individual meet slated for later this season. (Photo by David Biggy)
Southern was a wrecking ball the rest of the meet. After sophomore Jake Werner took third in 1:59.78, senior Bryan Kahl grabbed fourth in 2:04.07 and sophomore Silas Committee snagged seventh in 2:11.75 during the 200-yard freestyle, White finished third in a school-record 2:06.63 in the 200-yard individual medley. Then Kristian Werner swiped second with a time of 22.51 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, just ahead of Nemes, who snagged fourth in 22.86 seconds, and sophomore teammate Sean Kahl touched the wall in 10th in 24.01 seconds.
In the 100-yard butterfly, Matthews took third in 1:00.25, not far in front of sophomore Enzo Russino, who placed seventh in 1:03.48. Kristian Werner then broke the school record in the 100-yard freestyle, taking more than two seconds off his qualifying time and touching the wall in first place at 49.35 seconds, while Nemes took third in 53.27 seconds.
In the 500-yard freestyle, the Rams snatched four of the top-1o positions – Jake Werner clocked a 5:26.19 to take third, while senior Caleb Westpy ended in seventh at 6:14.84, junior Justin Pollina grabbed ninth in 6:17.71 and freshman Turner Ryon took 10th place in 6:21.71. White, Sean Kahl, Nemes and Kristian Werner then turned in a school-record time of 1:33.26 to win the 200-yard freestyle relay.
After Bryan Kahl registered a time of 1:03.42 to take fifth in the 100-yard backstroke and junior teammate Luke Plesniarski finished eighth in 1:07.24, White returned to the pool to place second with a time of 59.35 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke to earn a spot in the individual state meet later in February. The Kahl brothers, Matthews and Jake Werner capped the Rams’ outstanding effort by taking fifth in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:45.28.
Of course, one of the motivating factors for the Rams this season is the absence of teammate and senior Matt Adams in the pool. Adams, who sustained a severe spinal cord injury last summer, has been cheering from poolside.
“Our seniors definitely have paved the way,” said Craig, whose team remained undefeated for the regular season and clinched at least a tie for the top spot in the Shore Conference Class A South division by crushing Central, 121-49, on Jan. 18. “And since Day One of this season, everything has been ‘This is for Matt.’ They’re pushing a little harder and digging a little deeper to accomplish the goals they had for this year.”
Still, the Rams aren’t done, Craig said.
“Everything is one goal at a time,” he said. “Our guys were focused on the county meet and got it done. We have to beat Jackson Memorial this week to outright win the division, and then we have some unfinished business with the Shore Conference Championships on Saturday (Jan. 29). We still can get more state qualifiers, and then we have the state team tournament. There’s a lot left for us to do.”
Southern Girls
Snag Second Place
After the boys captured the county title earlier on Jan. 22, the Southern Regional girls had their shot in the afternoon. Unfortunately, unlike two years ago when they edged Donovan Catholic, the Rams fell short of Donovan this time, taking second with 303 points. The Griffins finished with 315 points.
After senior Mohini Jani, freshman Francesca Fields and seniors Brooke Boyd and Haley Skimmons finished fifth in the medley relay with a time of 1:59.71, sophomore Shae Centanni took fourth in the 200 freestyle in 2:04.55, and freshman Julianna Marco (2:29.13) and junior Payton Nork (2:30.71) placed eighth and 10th, respectively, in the 200 IM. Boyd then took sixth in 26.48 seconds, Skimmons grabbed ninth in 27.16 seconds and senior Jessica Paulillo snagged 10th in 27.43 seconds during the 50 freestyle.
Fields placed sixth in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:03.66 and Boyd took 10th in 1:07.66, before Nork snatched fourth in the 500 free with a time of 5:53.58. After Boyd, Skimmons, junior Isabella Wyckoff and Centanni clocked 1:48.03 to take second in the 200 free relay, freshman Amalie Werner placed ninth in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:09.41. After Fields placed fourth in 1:12.03 and sophomore Talia Duralek grabbed 10th in 1:15.24 during the 100 breaststroke, the 400 freestyle foursome of Centanni, Paulillo, junior Chloe Furlong and Fields finished second in 3:57.52 to cap the Rams’ scoring.
As for the Barnegat boys, the 200 freestyle relay team of seniors Justin Sullivan. Joe Fiorentino, Ryan Schager and Declan Lustenberger clocked 1:41.28 to place fifth, which was the highest spot for a Bengals relay or individual during Saturday’s county meet. In the 500 freestyle, freshman Christopher DeLeeuw finished an impressive sixth with a time of 6:11.65, while Schager also took sixth in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:07.21. Schager also led the way for the Bengals in the 200 IM, grabbing sixth in 2:19.29, just ahead of sophomore Christopher Schumann, who placed eighth in 2:21.42.
Schumann, senior Anthony Idone, sophomore Tyler Finkle and Fiorentino placed sixth in the 400 free relay with a time of 3:58.62, while the medley relay crew of Schumann, Schager, Lustenberger and Sullivan placed seventh in 1:53.92, and senior Danny Ohr touched the wall in 10th place with a time of 1:08.72 in the 100 backstroke.
For the Barnegat girls, 32 of their 49 points (12th place overall) were scored by two relays – the 200 free relay team of junior Hailee Lutz, senior Erin Lustenberger, senior Jessica Notaro and sophomore Alyson Sojak placed 10th in 2:04.26, and the 400 free relay team of freshman Sarah Schager, junior Emily McAvoy, junior Julia Brown and Sojak swiped the ninth position in 4:46.85.
 David Biggy

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