By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
Abbey Berloco headed to the YMCA National Championships just days after dominating the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association Championships.
Berloco was the Most Valuable Swimmer in the 18-and-under division at the PASDA final when she set three meet records and anchored a meet-record 200 medley relay for the West Windsor Whalers, who were fourth in the Division 1 team standings. Community Park won with 2,618½ points. Flemington-Raritan was second and Lawrenceville Swim Association took third.
Berloco won the 100 IM in 1:08.49. Alison Herman of Flemington-Raritan also topped the old record of 1:10.29 set by former West Windsor standout Emily Schroeder in 2012. Berloco won the 50 free in 26.82. The old record was 27.17 by Kate O’Rourke of LSA. Berloco won the 50 fly in 29.93, also a meet record. The old record was 30.06 by Cranbury’s Molly Mucciarone in 2010.
“I’m really proud of all of my races,” Berloco said. “Even though it was just PASDA, there was a lot of good competition. It wasn’t easy. I had to work. The one that means the most to me was the 50 free because it’s one of my main focuses. It shows my hard work is paying off.”
Berloco also teamed with Kira Power, Annie Menninger and Claire Kartoz to win the 200 medley relay in 2:08.68, another meet record.
“We’re all really happy with our swims,” Berloco said. “The 2 medley relay, we broke the meet record. It was great to see that. Annie is an amazing breaststroker and Claire is the same for butterfly. Kira is really good at backstroke.”
And with Berloco to anchor with her sprint freestyle, the Whalers had an edge. They could have the 15-year-old for years to come.
“She just aged up,” said Whalers coach Katie Welsh. “I also coach the Y team she swims on. At nationals in the spring, out of the top 16, she was the only 14-year-old. It’s very impressive.”
Berloco credits her start in PASDA with helping her get to the point where she is a nationals regular.
“PASDA has been a big part of my summer ever since I can remember,” said the Cranbury resident, who will be a sophomore at Princeton High School. “I started when I was 7. It’s why I started with a club team and it’s why my swimming took it off.”
Berloco got her start with the Cranbury Catfish eight years ago. That team has since folded and she joined the Whalers last year along with her younger brother, who is now 11.
“He’s up and coming,” Berloco said. “He’s really into it. He loves swimming. He really wants to get started with a club team. It’s a really big part of his life at well.”
The Whalers have been happy to welcome the family. Berloco already knew many of them from club swimming.
“She’s a great person not only because she’s a great kid, but she is very inspiring to the kids,” Welsh said. “One swimmer was crying and she was right at her side. She wants to help which is nice for someone as elite a swimmer as she is. She enjoys it. And she swims against the kids she swims against in high school and other USS swimmers in the area.”
Swimming has become a mainstay for Berloco, who represented Hamilton Aquatics Club at the Y Nationals. She has seen her swimming take off since those early PASDA days.
“I really liked it and I saw I had some potential when I was younger,” Berloco said. “I also had a lot of friends that swam for club teams in the area.”
Those draws still hold true today. Berloco has shown tons of potential and she has a lot of friends that are still swimming in PASDA. It’s what keeps bringing the 15-year-old back to the less serious swimming season, one that plenty of 18-and-under swimmers skip as they get older.
“It’s more than just racing,” Berloco said. “It’s great to be out there with my friends. It’s a lot of fun.”
Other area MVPs were Zoe Bitterman, the MVP of the 6-and-under girls and Sabine Ristad the MVP of the 8-and-under girls, both who helped CP win the overall title.
“They had great swims,” said CP coach Mike Uchrin. “It came down the wire for some of our meets (in the regular season). At one point, it came down to a fingertip. It was .05. It was a great season for us to be able to pull through. We haven’t won championships in a decade.”
CP was unbeaten in the regular season, then secured their first PASDA title since winning the Division 2 crown in 2002.
“To win champs was a huge milestone for us,” Uchrin said “I think the difference is the commitment that our kids showed to make sure to get out to meets. We had two rain dates. Even with those, we had kids came to make-up meets. The kids were committed to show up and bring the energy. The coaching staff also has been phenomenal. The team grew significantly, and the coaches were great.”
Matt Maykowski, Lily Stauffer with assistant Matt Tam, Nicky Kratzer with assistant Steph Tam, Kelsey Schwimmer with assistant Abbie Crane, and Charlotte Singer were all CP coaches who helped mold the swimmers into a championship team under Uchrin, who is in his first year as head coach.
“Coming in my inaugural year to have this kind of success is pretty surreal,” Uchrin said. “We had a great group of coaches and a great group of swimmers.”
The Bluefish are even more excited as they look ahead. They will be hosting the PASDA Championship for the first time in three decades, Uchrin said, and they will be returning the core of their championship team. Berloco, too, expects to be back to see how well she can do in PASDA.
“PASDA is mostly for fun,” she said. “I have a lot of friends on Hamilton and Whalers. It’s really fun to go out with all my friends. It makes it all the better to do so well.”
By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor