Vikings find St. Joe’s to be as tough as ever

By: Carolyn M. Hartko
   For local high school boys’ swim teams, competing against St. Joseph’s (9-0) is a little like taking part in Pickett’s charge at the Battle of Gettysburg: heroic on the surface, but an exercise in futility none the less.
   That was the case for the South Brunswick High School boys’ team, which lost to the state powerhouse Falcons, 140-30.
   "We didn’t get anything higher than fourth place," Viking head coach John Harding said. "They were going out of their way to try to 1-2-3 us in everything. It’s hard to get up when you know you don’t really have a good chance of winning. I was trying to push our kids ahead of time by telling them to motivate themselves by going against the clock, and don’t worry about the other guys. They’re one of the best teams in the state, and they’re a nationally known team."
   While some athletes may get discouraged going up against a team that’s way out of their league, a few Vikings were inspired to do their best times. Jim Gaylord broke a minute in the 100-meter freestyle race for the first time. Jon Cusack did his best time ever in the 200 free (2:00.1), and Brett Niebanck set a personal record in the 50 free.
   "Hopefully, we can bounce back from this," Harding said. "We have Old Bridge coming up on Friday. I’m hoping we’ll be able to put out a good performance then, and go into the GMC’s with some good momentum. The guys had four wins in a row before we lost to St. Joe’s. So, if we can win 4-out-of-5, there’s no disgrace in losing to St. Joe’s."
   Both Viking squads picked up victories against Cranford at the end of last week. The boys topped the visitors 112½-53½, and the Lady Vikings won their meet 108-62.
   "Overall, the boys did real well," Harding said. "A lot of the guys were right around the times they should be at this point in the season. Cranford had some very good swimmers — they just didn’t have a lot of depth. So, we were able to win about half the races, and then for the rest, with our depth and our big team we were able to take care of them without much of a problem."
   Niebanck doubled for the Vikings, winning the 100 and 200 freestyle sprints. Cusack also won two races, touching first in the 500 free and the 100 backstroke. Matt Benjamin took a first in the 100 breaststroke.
   According to Harding, the Lady Vikings also performed well against Cranford.
   "We have a lot of young girls on the team, and we’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this year," the coach said. "But the girls that have been consistently there, and working hard, have really improved a lot. With a young team, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. The younger kids seem to be very enthusiastic and very willing to work and learn. And that’s just what you want when you’re rebuilding."
   Freshman Stephanie Bartolotta earned her first varsity win last Friday when she aced the 200 free. Junior Amy Wolf was out sick for a while, but she showed she was back in good form by winning the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke. Senior co-captain Chrissie Tupe doubled, taking the 100 butterfly and the 500 free. Jenn Kamm was the final Viking individual winner (100 back).
   The boys are 5-6 going into Friday’s home meet against Old Bridge. At 4-7, the Lady Vikings have already topped last year’s record of 3-6. Harding was optimistic about the girls’ chances against the Lady Knights.
   "If we can beat Old Bridge (and hopefully we can) that should be a good meet," the coach said. "And that’ll be a good sign for the future."
   Friday’s meet is the last dual meet of the season. The South Brunswick squads will spend the following week getting ready for the Greater Middlesex Conference Championships, which will again be hosted by North Brunswick. The boys’ meet takes place at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6 . The girls’ competition is scheduled for the following morning, with a 10 a.m. start.