For the last four years, Matt Stasiunas has been striving to break a record.
In 1989, Mark Kolman of St. Mark’s swam the 500-yard freestyle in 4:30.98. It’s not uncommon for state swimming records to fall every year or two, but this one had stood the test of time.
Until this year.
Stasiunas got faster every year at Salesianum. And on March 2, at the DIAA Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Delaware, the senior took down the oldest state record in the book.
“Since my freshman year, I’ve always been eyeing it,” Stasiunas said. “It’s definitely a fast record. I just worked for it, and I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”
It was part of a perfect night for Stasiunas, who won two individual races, was part of two winning relays and set state records in the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyles. He was chosen as the state’s boys swimmer of the year by the Delaware Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association.
“He won four gold medals and set three state records,” Salesianum coach Chip Hannig said. “I don’t think you can do any better than that in one night.”
Stasiunas won the 200-yard freestyle by more than seven seconds in 1:38.03, edging the record of 1:38.16 set by Sallies’ Rory Connell in 2003. That was sweet because Connell now serves as one of Stasiunas’ coaches on the Delaware Swim Team.
But the big one came in the 500. Stasiunas won the state title in 4:34.37 last year. He would have to shave more than three seconds off that time to break the record.
He did it easily, winning in 4:26.89. His nearest competitor was more than nine seconds back.
“Those were his goals from the start of the season, to win both events and set state records in both events,” Hannig said.
“The way he was swimming all year, I thought he was right on target to break those records and do what he did.”
The coach paid tribute to Kolman, whose record stood for 24 years.
“That record was the oldest record around,” Hannig said.
“… That just tells you how good of a swim that was back then. For [Stasiunas] to break it was something special. I know he set his mind on that record from the end of last year.”
Stasiunas has always favored the longer races. The 500 is the longest race in high school, but he expects to also swim the 1,000 and the mile next fall when his collegiate career begins at Penn State.
“My endurance is pretty strong, and I just enjoy the longer distances,” Stasiunas said. “It’s just a different feel when you’re swimming. It’s more smart swimming than fast swimming. There’s a little more thinking, and if you make mistakes there is more time to make up for it than when you’re sprinting.”
He swims 9,000 to 10,000 yards per day, seven days a week. A typical practice lasts 2½ hours.
“After my freshman year, watching my first high school state meet and seeing the competitiveness and the fast swimmers, that’s when I realized I wanted to take it to the next level and hopefully take it all the way,” Stasiunas said.
He did, and his coach is proud. Hannig saw Stasiunas improve each year.
“He was a good swimmer as a freshman, don’t get me wrong,” Hannig said. “But the improvement he made between his freshman and sophomore year was unbelievable.”
Stasiunas played a huge role as Sallies won its eighth consecutive team championship, and 30th overall.
His 45.50 opening leg in the 400 freestyle relay set a state record for the 100 freestyle and helped the Sals to victory. He also anchored Sallies’ winning 200 freestyle relay.
His long-term goals are to swim in the NCAA championships and Olympic trials, and Stasiunas believes more hard work at Penn State will get him there.
His high school coach sees no limit to his future.
“We’re certainly going to miss him next year,” Hannig said. “We’re going to have some big shoes to fill without Matt being there. But Penn State is getting an all-around good guy, a quality person.”