Busy senior keeps mind on PHS swimming

Hook helps Little Tigers boys start 7-0

By: Justin Feil
   Anson Hook considers his junior year of swimming an off year.
   Of course, the reason the Princeton High senior didn’t live up to his expectations in the pool was because he was working so hard out of it. Hook, who for the past two years has taken classes at Princeton University as part of his course load, had a particularly strenuous academic calendar. But throughout last season, Hook was still a valuable part of the Little Tigers team that won a second straight Mercer County Championship and Central Jersey B crown.
   This season, in his final scholastic year of swimming, Hook is back on track for his own high expectations, and is a big reason the Little Tigers haven’t missed a beat despite graduating a number of points-winners from last season.
   "He has a number of outside interests," said PHS head coach Greg Hand. "He’s a very busy person, but what’s so nice is as a member of the team he’s always been completely committed to it. He’s always been there working out and bringing a great attitude."
   Hook finds himself this season in the most important role since he started with the Little Tigers as a freshman. In his first and second years with PHS, he was one of the outside lane swimmers that PHS counted on to pick up a point here or there in the distance events, maybe the point that would ease them by an opponent. It also was the beginning of Hook’s balancing act between classroom and athletics.
   "When I was a freshman in high school, being on the swim team was one of the first things that pushed me," Hook said. "Getting better at swimming helped me push my academics. Swimming is definitely one of my top priorities. It’s fun. It’s a way to release. It’s kind of euphoric when you’re giving everything you can and you’re completely exhausted afterward and know you did well."
   Exhaustion was easier to swim to as a freshman and sophomore, when Hook did the 200 and 500 freestyle races. Last year, he moved to the sprint events — the 50 and 100 free — where he’s become more important than he ever was as a distance swimmer.
   "I’m probably better as a sprinter," said Hook, who was second to teammate Tom McKinley in the 50 and won his old event, the 200 free, in Princeton’s 121-47 win over Hamilton on Tuesday. "Freshman and sophomore year, they needed me to swim 200 and 500. The first time I did, I just thought: ‘When will this end.’"
   Hook, who swam for Xcel outside of school from fourth grade until this year, not only is a sprinter now, but is a top threat for the Little Tigers in every meet, a slightly different role from his first two seasons of high school. His main competition in many meets comes from McKinley.
   "It’s nice going against a teammate," Hook said. "You can’t really lose."
   Hook is winning more and more these days, picking up more points for the Little Tigers than he ever has all the while taking aim at some lofty goals.
   "It’s really thrilling to go from going to get fourth place to first," Hook said. "It makes you work harder and makes you feel better when you get it. I definitely have higher expectations this year. My junior year was one of my off years. I was kind of annoyed I didn’t have a good year.
   "My goal is trying to swim under 23 (in the 50)," he added. "It’s not very likely, but I’m trying. I want to swim 52 seconds (in the 100 free) for the West Windsor (South) meet. That’s going to be our best meet of the year."
   So far, the Little Tigers have not been challenged. At 5-0, PHS is off to its expected strong start with West Windsor-Plainsboro South on the horizon Tuesday. Hook is doing his part, and he has plenty of help.
   "We definitely are doing really well," he said. "This year, we lost a lot of good seniors, but we got a lot of good freshmen who will be stepping up to their role. It’s kind of like when I was a freshman. When I was a freshman, we got a lot of new freshmen in."
   Hook’s been part of a special class that has won two county titles and prevailed as a top B contender in the state for the past two seasons. Each season, Hook’s importance to the team has increased, from an outside lane distance swimmer to middle-lane sprinter.
   "He’s become a front-line sprinter for us," Hand said. "Last year, he anchored one of our two relays, and in some of our meets he anchored the medley relay. This year, it’s not just relays, but also the 50 and 100 he’s swimming. We’re asking him to swim more events and sprints."
   The longtime PHS coach didn’t necessarily expect Hook to be so talented in the sprints originally. But Hook, just as he does in the classroom, is better under pressure. It helped him be effective in his role the first two seasons with the Little Tigers and in his last two.
   "In the beginning of his career, against the good teams like Lawrence, he was the guy who made the difference by getting fourth or fifth," Hand said. "He got under two minutes in the 200 and he got to around 5:45 (in the 500). What came as somewhat of a surprise to us is how fast he is. To look at him in the water, you can see he’s not a real technically proficient swimmer when he’s not going his fastest. When he races, though, it’s as if everything comes together. He’s very fluid and effective."
   So far, Anson Hook’s senior year has come together quite nicely as well as he and the PHS boys’ swimming team look for their best season yet.