HILLSBOROUGH — Division I talent continues to arise in the pool for the Hillsborough High School boys swim team. After Brad Zdorik put up historic results in high school and took his superior ability to Stanford University, the Raiders will have to learn life after one of New Jersey’s best swimmers.
The transition won’t be extremely hard in Raiders Country. Sam Hendrix will take over the reigns as the leader on the team. After deciding to continue his career at the University of Kentucky, the senior can now relax and focus on guiding his team to a similar place as last season.
“I can’t wait because I know people will be looking up at me,” Hendrix said. “I have to push myself as hard as I can so it gives a good example to the underclassmen. I have to try to make a good impact on all of them. It makes me pretty happy that they are looking up at me.”
Hendrix has earned his spot as the team’s most prominent swimmer. Hendrix originally entered high school with an interest in football, but his undeniable potential in the pool made him take the sport more seriously.
“Freshman year I was just doing high school swim during the winter season,” Hendrix said. “When I started to swim year round I saw a huge improvement. I was training every day and doing everything I could. I was pretty impressed. I was a football player freshman year, but when I quit, it changed my whole perspective on training.”
Fast forward to the end of his junior year at the Meet of Champions in early March. Hendrix saw individual triumph when he was able to grab the third spot in the 100-yard freestyle (46.89), while Zdroik won gold.
It’s not about the individual spotlight for the Hillsborough swimmers, instead they enjoy a total team effort. The Raiders consistently clashed with a strong Pingry School group, most notably at the Somerset County and Skyland Conference meets.
At the end of the day, the depth of Hillsborough was able to prevail at the Somerset County meet, where it edged out Pingry in a closely contested matchup. Hendrix and Zdroik were able to get a victory in the 200 freestyle relay, but Sebastian Lutz and Jamie Finnegan countered their results with a first place finish in the 400 freestyle relay.
Both sides had record setting campaigns and continued their favorable outcomes until the final day of the season.
“It was intense, we knew that they have a good relay,” Hendrix said. “We also had a lot of fast sprinters. We thought it would go well. We all sprinted our hardest and I think we were all successful.”
This season will showcase fresh faces throughout the Somerset area, but one thing is for sure, Hendrix will refuse to settle for anything less than a typical outcome for his proud program. Behind a few mental lessons from Zdroik and non-stop hard work, Hendrix can take the Raiders to similar heights as last season, and maybe set the bar even higher.
“(Zdroik) taught me to push as hard as I can because eventually there will be better people than me in college,” Hendrix said. “Swimming against Brad gave me a glimpse of what I will do in college. He prepared me for the college level.
“We are gaining a lot of people from down under. It’s definitely going to be a different change. We are going to try as hard as we can. We know that other teams lost their seniors from last year, so it’s up for grabs.”
Jan. 16: Skyland Conference Championships
Jan. 23: Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Championships
Jan. 24: Union County Championships
Jan. 30: Somerset County Championships
Feb. 2: Public state tournament begins
Feb. 5: Non-Public state tournament begins
Feb. 27: Meet of Champions – preliminaries
Feb. 28: Meet of Champions – finals
TEAMS TO WATCH
The Cougars consistently sat behind Hillsborough and Pingry throughout a majority of the local competition, but performed at their best when it mattered the most. Montgomery was able to ride its depth in order to capture the Central Jersey Public A title over Lenape, but were unable to continue its success, eventually falling to Cherry Hill East in the Group A semifinals.
“You have to compete with the best to be the best,” Montgomery coach Noelle Keller said. “It’s great that we are in an area where we face the other teams over and over again. This team will be strong again and will go far.”
Montgomery returns 11 seniors this year, including Jake Otterbein, who made a splash at the Meet of Champions by finishing in eighth place at the 200-yard freestyle.
“We definitely had a lot of depth last year,” Keller said. “We are in the same position this year. Our depth is going to carry us really far.”
The Panthers were unable to make it past Hillsborough in their sectional last year. This year they look ready to make some noise, not only within the area, but around the state. Doug Quagliato returns as the leader of the pack for Bridgewater-Raritan.
Westfield has made a name for its program over the past four years. Last season the Blue Devils continued to grasp control of the Union County meet by narrowly holding off Scotch Plains-Fanwood. They would continue their strong year with a victory over Hillsborough in the North II A final, which was their fourth straight. Eric Bebel will be the centerpiece in the pool after making a big splash during his freshman year.
Westfield has some company in Union County. Scotch Plains-Fanwood was able to defeat Morristown by a healthy margin, 105-65, to claim the North II B title. Chris Bondarowicz will be a swimmer to keep an eye on throughout the season after he jumped on to the scene as a sophomore.
Staff Writer Steven Macri: email@example.com