Jennings a great fit for MHS swimming

Freshman breaks school fly record in win

By: Justin Feil
   Kyle Jennings was looking forward to joining the Montgomery High boys’ swim team.
   "On my other swim team, I know people on the team," said Jennings, who swims for the Somerset Valley YMCA club team outside of school. "I know Drew (Talarick) and I knew the Stirlings who went there. It’s fun. I was looking forward to doing high school swimming."
   The Cougars were waiting just as excitedly for him, and it’s been a perfect union.
   "He fits right in," said MHS head coach Claire Scarpa. "A lot of boys swim on SVY. He knew them and fit right in with the team. He’s made a nice little addition. We’ve always struggled in the butterfly and the 500. He’s solid in both events.
   "I rest a little easier when Kyle’s events come up," she added. "The 500, boys never want to swim it. They run from it. I’ve barely had kids swim under six minutes and that’s not very good. To have someone in the low fives is a big difference. In the fly, I could put kids in there. Doug (Pung) would do it. He was never thrilled about it. Now I have someone who likes to swim those events and can do well in them."
   Jennings was up for the task and produced some incredible swims in Montgomery’s 89-81 win over Hunterdon Central on Tuesday. The freshman started his day by teaming with Talarick, Pung, and anchor Brian Stirling to win the 200 medley relay. Jennings came off the break to shatter his own school 100-yard butterfly record that stood for less than a week when he finished in 55.99 seconds. It was a personal best, a rarity for a club swimmer in a high school season.
   "I was surprised," Jennings said. "The last couple meets were really good. I think I felt good. I don’t know how I did that."
   He returned two races later to glide to an easy win in the 500 freestyle in 5:15, then anchored the win with Jeff Stirling, Ryan Warner and Pung in the 400 free relay that clinched the win. Hunterdon Central could have tied the meet by finishing first and third but Jennings and company made sure that didn’t happen as they evened the Cougars’ record at 3-3.
   "I know the guys on our relay are fast," he said. "I thought it would be hard to beat us there."
   With a .500 record, it may not look so difficult to beat the Cougars, but their competition has to be considered. MHS has lost to Lawrence, which recently suffered its first loss of the season to West Windsor-Plainsboro South, and to 5-2 Bridgewater-Raritan and 6-2 Hillsborough.
   "They’re not losing faith because we’re closing the gap between these teams," Scarpa said. "Against Lawrence, it would have been different if we had our full team. Brian Stirling and Kyle Jennings were missing. They would have made a very big difference. With Hillsborough and Bridgewater, we’re closing the gap. They know they’re getting there. The know the scores are getting there. That’s good.
   "The win (over Hunterdon Central) was needed. I gave them a little pep talk about how good they’re doing and their record just doesn’t show it. They’re swimming against some tough competition. They’re swimming amazing. They’re doing great. It’ll have to pay off with the teams that aren’t as tough as Hillsborough and Bridgewater."
   MHS will pit itself against some of the top swimmers in the area when it travels to the Pirate Invitational this weekend. Jennings won’t go because he’ll be swimming in the Burgdorff Invitational, a huge meet for club swimmers. But he’ll return when the Cougars take on Watchung Hills on Tuesday.
   "I have friends who have improved a lot in high school," Jennings said. "I expect better time through the year."
   Jennings, who also favors the fly and 500 free for club swimming, likes being able to fit in for the Cougars. He understood a little about how he could help and what it would mean to the Cougars’ success.
   "In the 500, I knew they were probably missing someone," he said. "In the fly, I knew they had one person who swam it. I really like those events.
   "(Tuesday) was pretty good. We don’t have a losing record now. We have a tied record. Hopefully we can go on to get a winning record."
   Jennings wasn’t the only standout in Tuesday’s win to even the Cougars’ record. Pung broke his own breaststroke record with a finishing time of 1:04. Talarick won the 100 free and the 200 free. Warner and the Stirling brothers finished second through fourth in the 50 free to erase any advantage HC had in having the race winner. It was part of the key to the Cougars’ team win.
   "It was a combination of winning the events or them coming in 2-3-4 or going 1-2 in events," Scarpa said. "It was a combination of everything. Everyone was working so hard."
   Added Jennings, "I thought we were going to win. Hillsborough and Bridgewater, I had a feeling we were going to lose. I know a lot of their swimmers."
   And plenty of MHS opponents are getting to know Jennings. They’re seeing a freshman who is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential. While he has played lacrosse for the past three years, his main passion is for swimming. He has quickly established himself on the MHS team.
   "I looked at the school records," Jennings said. "I wanted to see what I was close to. Some records are a stretch. Others I’m close to."
   Jennings will continue to take aim at the record books while giving the Cougars a solid frontrunner in the fly and 500 free. Beyond that, this is a big year in club swimming for Jennings.
   "At the Y, this is my last year in my age group," he said. "I want to take it up another level."
   High school, he notes, is helping him. It tests his endurance by limiting the amount of rest time between events. He’s focusing on putting together exceptional back-to-back swims, not just one at a time. And his events work well in making the Cougars a tougher team to beat.
   "I knew a lot of people from the team," Jennings said. "I pretty much fit right in there. It’s been fun."