North Rockland couldn’t have picked a more dramatic way to win its first Rockland County swimming and diving title in 15 years.
Trailing rival Suffern by two points, the Red Raiders needed to win the meet’s final event, the 400 freestyle relay, to claim the championship. When anchor TJ Devito touched the wall first, the Red Raiders began to celebrate like it was 1999.
“It means a lot on different levels,” Red Raiders coach Dave Holmes said. “Coach Jordan Carlisi, my assistant coach, was on that 1999 team when we won the county title. Josh (Melendez), my diving coach, was on the staff when we won Division B back in 2007. Everyone has a tie to the history of Red Raider swimming. It’s been exciting. We knew this was going to be a close meet.”
Less than five seconds was the difference between jubilation and another year of disappointment for North Rockland, which won the 400 free relay with a time of 3 minutes, 24.79 seconds. The Mounties placed second at 3:29.52.
The Red Raiders claimed the title with 542 points. Runner-up Suffern logged 538. Clarkstown placed third with 368.5
“Being a senior and having the chance to win it, you just have so much in you,” said Red Raiders senior Sammy Melendez, younger brother of Josh Melendez and a member of the 400 free relay along with junior Jake Raccioppi, freshman Michael Tartakovsky and Devito, a junior. “It feels good and we won it.”
The Red Raiders set the tone early on, winning the 200 medley relay in a school-record time of 1:41.39. The team of Tartakovsky, sophomore Matthew Zugibe, Devito, and senior Shane Carter broke the mark that had stood since 2010.
“I’m so proud of the guys on my relay,” Zugibe said. “Our school record means so much to us. We all went best times and we’re extremely happy about it.”
Zugibe won both the 50 and 100 free. His 50 free time of 21.92 is a school record. Tartakovsky won the 100 backstroke.
Tappan Zee senior Tyler McCloskey was named the meet’s outstanding swimmer after winning the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly. Teammate Liam Burke, a junior, won the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
“It’s probably one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever had in swimming,” McCloskey said. “My family has been in this county a long time swimming. It’s an award my cousin Lance (Neuendorf) won a couple of years ago and from the moment I saw him step on that podium two years ago, I knew that’s where I wanted to be my senior year.”
Suffern freshman Joshua Southren won the 100 breaststroke.