RANDOLPH – Neil Dave shouted, “Never again!” after finishing the 100-yard breaststroke at Morris Hills’ first swim meet. A Scarlet Knights senior, Dave climbed up to the top of the bleachers at County College of Morris as his teammates complimented his stroke and all shared a laugh.
Morris Hills is building a family.
Less than a week into the new season, the Scarlet Knights already have held a pasta party — and celebrated the season opener against Morris Knolls with homemade brownie, chocolate-chip cookie, Oreo combos.
“We have a lot of friends on that team, so swimming them gets your adrenaline going,” Morris Hills senior Kellyann Gangaware, who won both distance races and was part of Morris Hills’ first-place 400 free relay on Thursday.
The Scarlet Knights hope a large veteran group will guide the way. After graduating just two seniors apiece, the boys team has seven returning letter-winners — and the girls added eight newcomers. Three of them — Kristen Liu, Aidan Pinto and Helen Cheng — are year-round club swimmers, an immediate boost for Morris Hills.
Head coach Heather McDonald changed the relays to fit the new personnel, and times have already improved.
Joked Gangaware, “Even though they’re short, they’re fast.”
The Scarlet Knights’ goal is to win at least three meets apiece, which would match the current seniors’ previous best. Each team had just two victories last year, but both the boys and girls were far closer to Morris Knolls — their sister school and training partner at County College of Morris — than they have been in past seasons.
Dave attributes that to the leadership of captains Sean Hamilton and Patrick Herrera, and to more intense workouts from head coach Seana O’Connell, who took over the program four years ago.
“We’re built on a foundation of brotherhood,” Dave said. “We want to show our leadership and togetherness. That can carry us to wins over having raw talent. It’s not always about having raw talent. It’s about your desire to win. Although we have a joking attitude before the meet, when we realize it’s time to go, we have that competitive nature and drive rise up in us.”
Morris County Swimmers to Watch
Matthew Carey, Madison senior: After swimming independently for two years, Carey finally had a full boys team last winter.
Matt Critchley, Morristown senior: A key component on the Colonials’ county champion relays last winter, Critchley will also be a key leader on a very deep team with extremely high expectations.
Josh Decker, Roxbury senior: An All Daily Record first-team honoree in the 50 free, Decker will try to help the Gaels build on a historic 2014-15 season.
Brennan Hammond, Mount Olive freshman: Already a veteran triathlete, Brennan Hammond will finally get to team up with his older brother, senior Bobby Hammond, in high school swimming.
Alicia Iizuka, Chatham junior: It’s impossible to pick a single swimmer from the Cougars, who are five-time NJSIAA and seven-time Morris County champions. Already a two-time Morris County breaststroke champ, Iizuka was fourth at the Meet of Champions last winter.
Mary Laurita, Mendham junior: Laurita tied for the Morris County butterfly title a year ago, and is one of the driving forces behind the young Minutemen.
Vinny Marciano, Randolph freshman: The national age-group record-holder dives in against high school competition for the first time.
Rebecca Morel, Villa Walsh junior: Will this be the year the versatile Morel steps up and claims a Morris County individual title, after being part of the Vikings’ champion medley relay twice?
Joe Scerbo, Mountain Lakes junior: Recognized for the 500 free after placing eighth at the Meet of Champions and winning the Morris County title, Scerbo is a key component of a Lakers team rebuilding after significant graduation losses.
Ryan Waters, Morristown-Beard junior: A two-time first-team All Daily Record honoree, the verstaile Waters is an outstanding distance swimmer who won the Morris County title in the 200 free and the NJISAA 500 free crown.