BOYS SWIMMING PREVIEW: O'Neill uses size to his advantage

BOYS SWIMMING PREVIEW: O'Neill uses size to his advantage

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BOYS SWIMMING PREVIEW: O'Neill uses size to his advantage

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Take a look at Ryan O’Neill.

The Freehold Township High School senior stands 6-foot-3. He weighs 195 pounds.

He has the body of a swimmer. And, he’s a pretty good one, too.

“Michael Phelps’ wingspan is more than six feet long,” coach Brittany Bott said. “Ryan embodies that. He has the physique. We call it the swimmer’s build. When I watch him, I almost get chills as when he swims it looks so effortless. He puts a lot of work toward his races. He has a talent that is rare in this area.”

O’Neill makes it a point to take advantage of his build.

“I just feel I swim very smoothly,” he said. “I have a pretty long stroke. I don’t swim with my arms moving back and forth. My stroke is long and smooth.”

It didn’t take O’Neill long to catch Bott’s eyes. She knew she had something special last season, her first at the helm of the Patriots.

“Prior to our meets, other coaches told me to look out for Ryan,” she said. “When I saw him swim his first meet, I stopped, took a breath and said, ‘Wow. This is incredible.’ I noticed the way he attacked the water. He goes in so strongly. Coaches come to me and make comments about how effortlessly he swims and that the others look like they are struggling. He looks like he is gliding through the water.”

O’Neill starred last season for the Patriots.

Competing in the 200-yard freestyle, he won the Monmouth County meet in 1:46.23. He was second in the Shore Conference meet in 1:43.16. In the 500 freestyle, he was second in the Shore Conference meet in 4:42.41. He was second in the Monmouth County meet in 4:48.91. At the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, he was eighth in 4:49.53 and fourth in the 200 in 1:41.93.

O’Neill, an Asbury Park Press first-team All-Shore selection last season, hopes to again sparkle in the 200 and 500.

“Essentially, what events he will swim are up to him,” Bott said. “He likes competing in the 200 and 500. We will try to get him into the 100 backstroke and the 50 freestyle. We want to give him a nice variety of events. In the bigger meets, he will compete in the 200 and 500.

“As for his best event, it’s a tossup between the 200 and 500. He is excellent at the middle and long distance events.”

O’Neill said his favorite event is the 200.

“It’s not really a sprint or a long distance event,” he said. “It’s right in the middle of everything. It’s like the 400 and 800 in track.”

O’Neill has set time goals in the 200 and 500 for this season.

“By the end of this year, I want to swim around a 1:36 in the 200,” he said. “I go 1:39 so. In the 500, I am going 4:36 now. I want to get to around 4:25ish. I am more of a back half of the race swimmer so I don’t want to take it out too fast. I just have to work on everything in practice and train really hard.

“I have competed in that manner a whole bunch of times. If I go out too fast, I would probably die. When I hold the pace and build from it, I feel a lot better in the water.”

O’Neill has another goal for this season. He wants to continue to enjoy competing.

“I am not putting any pressure on myself,” he said. “I juswt want to go out and race. I love racing. It is always fun. I am very competitive. I hate to lose.”

Bott said O’Neill owns the respect of his teammates.

“Ryan is the quiet person on the pool deck,” she said, “but he brings so much to the table. The other kids look up to him so much. He holds virtually every school record. He’s extraordinary. He sets the bar so high for our athletes at school. Our freshmen look up to him.”

O’Neill brings a tireless work ethic to the water.

“His dedication to the sport makes him the swimmer he is,” Bott said. “He has a love of the sport. He devotes the time need to improve.”

Bott said O’Neill is a pleasure to coach.

“Ryan is a very modest student-athlete who may not speak up often,” she said. “When he does speak, he has passion. You can tell he waits for the right moment to speak. He’s quite, but he has a strong personality. He has a lot of close friends on the team. He works so hard. He does not want to brag about himself although I think he deserves to a little bit.

O’Neill also swims on the Freehold-Old Bridge YMCA team of coach Paul Florio. O’Neill, who trains with Kat Fields at Dr. Renay Friedman’s chiropractic-physical therapy office in Howell, will compete for Penn State, where he received a partial swimming scholarship. He figures to often swim the 200.

O’Neill, who has signed a National Letter of Intent, decided to compete for the Big Ten school in the middle of October.

“I just loved everything about the school,” he said. “The coaches were awesome. The team was awesome. My uncle, Mark McKee, went there. He had nothing but good things to say about the school. I loved the campus.”

O’Neill chose Penn State over Purdue and Indiana. Undecided on a major, O’Neill said his best subject is mathematics.

“I love Ryan’s choice,” Bott said. “I am so proud of him. He could not have chosen a better school. He had a lot of options. He will be surrounded by amazing talent. He will receive excellent coaching, which will allow him to become the swimmer he should be. He will also have top of the line facilities.

“If he really pushes himself, he has the potential to become an Olympian. It comes down to the coaching and the dedicating of time.”

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