HILLSBOROUGH: Boys make huge splash

Medley relay team sets record

by Rudy Brandl, Sports Editor
   The Hillsborough High boys made their mark in Saturday’s 30th annual Pirate Invitational at the Bubble in West Windsor. Their performance also sent a message to the contending teams in Somerset County and the Skyland Conference, whom the Raiders will battle in big meets in the next two weeks.
   Hillsborough has lost dual meets to county rivals Montgomery and Bridgewater-Raritan, but those setbacks won’t mean a thing when these teams lock horns in the big championship meets. The Raiders always build for a strong second half and they set the tone for that by showing what they could do against elite competition at the Pirate.
   ”The second part of the season starts at the Pirate,” HHS head coach Todd Sudol said. “We use the meet to get some fast times and build some confidence.”
   The Raiders piled up 181 points, trailing only perennial power St. Augustine (208). It wasn’t just the top-flight stars contributing to the team’s second place finish. Many younger, unheralded HHS swimmers added to the total by putting in their best swims of the season.
   ”All our guys did really well,” HHS senior captain Rob Parker said. “That means we’re going into the counties and conference with other guys getting points. That’s going to help us so much. With all those guys going a lot faster, that’s going to help us get more points.”
   Nobody in the 30-year history of the prestigious Pirate meet has ever gone faster than Hillsborough’s 200 medley relay did in Saturday’s event. The outstanding team of sophomores Matt VanBiervliet (26.53 backstroke) and Sean Johnson (27.41 breaststroke) and seniors David Wilson (23.12 butterfly) and Parker (21.94 freestyle) set a meet record with a sizzling time of 1:39.00. That time, tops in the state this year among public schools, also established a new school record and earned the Raiders All-America consideration.
   ”Everyone gets really pumped for these meets because it’s nice when the four fastest swimmers can swim together,” Johnson said. “We wanted to see what kind of times we could get. It was really nice.”
   ”We knew we had a shot at winning,” Parker added. “We really went for it. Winning means a lot because it shows we’re going to be one of the relays to beat and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
   Saturday’s performance establishes the HHS foursome as one of the favorites to win a state championship at the end of the season. They’re hoping to build on that momentum and win some of the big upcoming meets, with the ultimate goal being to continue their sectional team championship streak.
   ”The Pirate is one of those meets that if you swim well, it gets you pumped for the rest of the season,” Johnson said. “We know we’re one of the best teams in the state and we know we can start every meet getting points for the team.”
   Johnson downplayed his individual heroics of winning the 100-yard breaststroke. He beat Skyland Conference foe David White of Hunterdon Central by over one-half second hitting the wall in 1:00.82.
   ”It felt good but it’s more about the team swimming well,” Johnson said. “It was nice to win but we’re all really excited about how well the team did.”
   The Raiders ended the meet by winning the 400 freestyle relay with Giacopelli, VanBiervliet, Wilson and Parker beating the host school by over three seconds in a time of 3:17.87.
   Other HHS swimmers who placed in the top six included Wilson in the 50 free (2nd, 21.83), Parker in the 100 free (2nd, 48.37), VanBiervliet in the 100 back (2nd, 55.68), Tanner Horst in the 100 fly (4th, 55.71) and the 200 free relay team of Parker, Johnson, Wilson and Brian Giacopelli (2nd, 1:29.80).
   Parker and Johnson also praised teammates Kevin Mullaly, Eric VanBiervliet and Steve Schappert for stepping up with big performances. Those extra points helped propel the team to its best finish ever at the Pirate.
   ”I had kids make finals you’d never expect,” Sudol said. “About half my team is high school only swimmers and it takes them time to get in shape.”
   ”Kids that don’t normally place did really well and that got us fired-up,” Parker added. “That showed us we were doing great things and that’s going to help us the rest of the season.”
   NOTES – The HHS boys improved to 4-3 in dual meets with a 106-64 triumph over Hunterdon Central in the team’s final home contest, a day on which the seniors were honored. Individual winners for the Raiders included Parker in the 100 and 200 free, Johnson in the 200 individual medley and 100 breast, Wilson in the 50 free and 100 fly and Matt VanBiervliet in the 100 back. All three relay teams won for Hillsborough, with Horst and George Marks joining VanBiervliet and Parker on the 400 free relay.
   The Hillsborough girls fell to 3-4 with a 117-53 loss to Central on the same day. Heather Good was the only Raider to win an event, taking first in the 100 breast in 1:06.20.