BUENA VISTA TWP.
If Tuesday’s showdown between the St. Augustine Prep and Vineland High School swim teams was supposed to feature the top two squads in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference, then the Hermits proved they’re in a class by themselves.
St. Augustine jumped on the Fighting Clan from the outset and never let up, outscoring Vineland in all but one event en route to a 113-57 rout at Navone Pool. The Hermits clinched the conference crown with the triumph.
“From the start, coach (Jon Stinson) said it was going to be one of the most important meets all year, and we wanted to step it up,” said Prep senior and Vineland resident T.J. Merighi.
St. Augustine was powered by both its depth and upperclassmen, several of whom entered the meet with high expectations.
“I think everyone watching thought it would be a lot closer, but some of the older swimmers didn’t think so,” said senior Sam Newnam, who rallied to win the 200-yard individual medley in a season-best 2:04.26.
The Hermits set the tone right away as seniors Sam Sheppard and Merighi were strong in their legs of the opening event, the 200 medley relay, and spurred the Prep quartet to a first-place finish and a quick 10-4 advantage.
“The medley relay was great,” Merighi said, adding, “Every event from there got better and better.”
Senior Patrick Flynn followed up by winning the 200 freestyle and Newnam and sophomore John Gregory came from behind to beat Vineland’s Johnny Malatesta in the 200 IM to lead a 1-2-4 finish and give their team a 31-15 lead.
The Fighting Clan’s Eddie Parks was able to win the 50 free, edging Merighi by .02-of-a-second (22.26 to 22.28), but St. Augustine still went 2-3-4 to extend its lead to 44-22.
“They have their star swimmers like we do, but we have more depth,” Newnam said.
Vineland crept as close as 46-32 when Parks and Mark Novatorskiy went 1-2 in the 100 butterfly, but Merighi won the 100 freestyle in a season-best 49.4, Newnam took second and fellow Prep senior Bryan Dougherty placed fourth to extend the Hermits’ lead to 58-36. It never got closer than that.
“Vineland has a lot of great swimmers,” Merighi said, adding, “I thought it would be a 20-point meet, but not this. It was a great win for us.”
On the other side of the pool, the Fighting Clan left St. Augustine a little stunned.
“Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days,” Malatesta said. “They came out ready to swim better than us. They’re just so deep and everything.”
But Malatesta certainly didn’t believe the score was indicative of how the teams compare.
“A lot of our good swimmers didn’t have a very good meet, including myself,” he said. “It was probably the worst meet I’ve swam all year.”
Coach Brian Newton said the team’s struggles likely stem from its intense winter training and lack of recent race experience — it was Vineland’s second meet since Dec. 20. But while those are valid reasons, Newton said his team had to use this loss to its benefit the rest of the year.
“This is one that has to motivate us,” he said. “Mainland (on Jan. 22) is going to be an insanely close meet and we’ve got to learn from this. This was not our season, and this will not define our season.”