Carroll locked in on counties this year

By: Justin Feil
   Cranbury’s Joe Carroll was on the move throughout much of last year’s Mercer County Championships.
   That might seem like a good thing, except that too much of the moving was done outside of the pool. In today’s (Friday’s) preliminaries and Saturday’s MCC finals to be hosted by Lawrence High, Carroll hopes to keep his moving to the pool.
   "I’m excited about this counties," said the Princeton High junior. "The last two years, I had to divide my time between Model United Nations and counties. Last year, I swam Thursday, then left Thursday night for Model United Nations in Washington, D.C., and did that Friday. Then I came back and did counties Saturday and after that meet went back to Washington until Sunday. This is the first time I’ll be experiencing counties by themselves."
   In all his travels last year, Carroll still managed to make the consolation finals at counties. This year, his goals are higher and his recent results show he is ready to be a factor in the championship finals. Carroll was the lone double victor for the Little Tiger boys’ team in a 92-78 loss to Lawrence last Thursday in their Colonial Valley Conference finale. Cranburys’ Mike Stehn also won the 50 free in that meet.
   "I was a little nervous going into the meet," Carroll said. "We had pointed out we’d be so far away (from Lawrence). I dropped time in the 200 and 500. I was pleasantly surprised with my improvements. I think I can probably go faster. That’s what the taper is for, for counties. I should go even faster. It’s a faster meet. It will be the exact same pool conditions. I think I can faster. Last year, I was in the consols. I got sixth place overall. I did better than somebody in finals.
   He added, "It would be exciting to make finals for either the 200 or 500 for counties. More time drop would be nice. If could get 5:09 in the 500, that’d be nice. I’d like to get to 1:50 in the 200. That would be a wonderful time. I did 1:53 against Lawrence."
   PHS, which finished third last year, is again among the Top 3 teams entering the counties. West Windsor-Plainsboro South and Lawrence, both of which defeated PHS in the CVC season, are also favorites. The Little Tigers are hoping to use the counties as a springboard to another run to the Central Jersey B title.
   "What I really like is this team is fairly cohesive and confident," said PHS coach Greg Hand. "I don’t have any idea if we’re a big-meet team, if we’re a team that can get a significant amount of points in multi-even meet like counties. What I like is the guys have matured as a group and really improved. They don’t worry about too much else.
   "I’m real happy with them. I’m going to define doing well (at counties) as having good swims and putting ourselves in a great frame of mind for state swimming which starts 10 days later."
   Hand has liked the way his team has grown and developed through the season. Carroll has been a bigger part of the Little Tigers’ success this season, his third with the high school team.
   "The big change from last year is Joe has grown a little taller," Hand said. "He’s gotten bigger overall. He’s grown into himself. He’s gotten more balanced in his swimming. Technically, he’s better off the block and better off turns. He has a terrific attitude for training and an infectious attitude on deck. It’s been thrill for him assuming more of leadership role.
   "Everything is moving in the right direction. He had his two best swims of the year in the 200 and 500 against Lawrence, which is nice to see part way into the taper. You can’t predict where times will go. He could have swum his best or there’s a chance he’ll do something really special. What I like about him in that regard is he takes that approach that good things can happen, and he’s preparing himself to make them happen."
   Carroll follows his older sister, Maddie, who is now a Princeton University freshman, through the PHS swim program. While his sister was known for her versatility in a number of strokes, Carroll has developed into the sort of freestyler who can contribute in a variety of events.
   "Joe is a freestyler pure and simple," Hand said. "What’s been a very pleasant development is Joe’s sprinting speed which we’ve needed to take advantage of in relays and some shorter sprints. His 100 time and 50 times are way down. There’s so much freestyle in high school meets, we see him as real versatile swimmer."
   Carroll will help the Little Tigers any way possible. But he admits to being drawn from an early age to the distance freestyle events, for which he also excels for the XCel club team.
   "I started swimming when I was 3," Carroll said. "I remember I used to swim 200s. My mom used to have to stop me. I love the distance. Every year, I do the mile swims on the Jersey shore. You start off on the beach and run out toward a buoy. It’s packed with about 200 people. It’s nuts in the beginning. It’s really fun."
   Carroll is hoping that the Little Tigers can have some fun while being competitive in the Mercer County Championships. The girls, who had preliminaries Thursday at Lawrence, will also be coming back for finals Saturday.
   "The key is just to continue having a spirit of fierce competition," Carroll said. "When we have Lawrence, Notre Dame or South, we really fight. We don’t give up. Every single member of the team swims hard. That’s key to our success in the future and what helped us do so well in the past."
   Carroll looks to do well again as the PHS boys’ team looks to stay among the county’s best today and Saturday at Lawrence. It would be a crowning moment to Carroll’s third year with the Little Tigers and a major tune-up for the state tournament.
   "Individually, I’ve been happy with my success," he said. "I’m dropped my times and I’m hoping to drop more. I don’t think expectations were too high for us. We lost a lot of seniors and even some freshmen transferred after last year. But we had the same record for the regular season as last year. We’ve done incredibly. We hope in the state season to do just as well."