There was concern within the Our Lady of Lourdes High School boys swimming and diving team during the early stages of tryouts.
Not only was the group rebuilding, but they were doing so with a slew of new swimmers packing the roster.
There was a slew of new swimmers on the roster. Of the eight new members, none had been involved in competitive swimming before. But, more specifically, several hadn’t swam before. At all.
For some of the Warriors, the largest body of water they had comfort with previously was the bathtub. Time during early November practices was dedicated to teaching basic fundamentals, from dipping faces in the water and rhythmic breathing exercises to freestyle stroke techniques.
And yet, two months into the season, things are going quite uh, swimmingly, for Lourdes. The team is 4-1-2 and in second place in Section 1 Conference 3 heading into the conference championship meet on Saturday, 8 a.m. at Beacon High School.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise,” senior Christian Thomas said. “To be honest, I didn’t expect us to do as well as we have.”
The team still is buoyed by its senior standouts Thomas, Jason Boyko and Stephen Baker, along with returner Jason Cruz. But the roster of 17 has received contributions from all over, including newcomers Brandon Hoolihan, Michael Faughnan and Reed Altmann, who have kept the team afloat.
“I’d never seen anything like that before,” Jason Boyko said of the novice varsity rookies. “That’s pretty unique in this sport. But we were short on depth and we needed people, so we were glad to have them.”
Talk about a sink-or-swim scenario.
“We have three coaches, so one or two would work with the new guys on the basics,” assistant coach Art Boyko, who along with Alex Heilmann, works with head coach Jerome Fearon, said of the early preseason practices. “It was actually quite challenging at first.”
Quite unusual, too. Imagine a varsity basketball practice in which a player has never run a layup drill before, or a baseball player who hasn’t caught a ball using a mitt.
But the beginners have been a revelation for the Warriors. As well, junior Luke Bramwell has made great strides, including taking third in the 50-yard freestyle (24.7 seconds) two weeks ago in a 53-39 win over Yorktown.
“By the first night of practice they were able to do some of the simple stuff,” Art Boyko said of the newcomers. “It’s not like teaching a 4-year-old. Teenagers are stronger and less fearful. They really wanted to learn and were willing to trust us. So the progress came pretty quickly.”
The rookies swim mostly in exhibition heats, but against smaller-school opponents they have competed and earned points. And their potential, Art Boyko said, gives the coaches hope of an even brighter future.
But, presently, it is Thomas, Jason Boyko, Baker and Cruz who star for the Warriors.
Thomas, a prototypical 6-foot-4 sprint swimmer, has already swam state-qualifying times in the 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle. Last week, he set the pool record at Poughkeepsie Middle School, completing the 50 freestyle in 21.74 seconds.
Jason Boyko excels in butterflies and freestyle races. He has competed in the state tournament the previous two years, including being part of Lourdes’ 200 medley relay, which took 24th last year. Boyko won the 50 freestyle in a season-best 23.62 seconds to lead the Warriors in a win over Port Chester on Jan. 5. He took fifth in the 100 butterfly (55.95) at the Schenectady Invitational on Jan. 7.
The team benefits greatly from Baker’s versatility, Art Boyko said. The senior, who swims year round, is able to compete in middle- and long-distance freestyles, the butterfly and breaststroke. Cruz has “great natural talent,” the coach said. The sophomore swam the 100 freestyle in 51.26 to take second in the Schenectady Invitational.
Swimmers who meet the requisite qualifying times at the conference meet Saturday advance to the Section 1 championships in February.
“This group has really put in the work and the coaches have been a big part of our success,” Thomas. “It’s fun to see the results of that effort. It’s been exciting.”
The combined Wappingers team (John Jay and Roy C. Ketcham) and Ossining are favored in the Conference 3 meet. Lourdes’ big four swimmers are expected to make the cut, Art Boyko said, but the door is open for others.
That’s less likely but, heck, so was the notion of kids in November who were hesitant to put their faces underwater becoming competitive swimmers in short time.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4