Williamsville East puts the student in student-athlete. The team manages to balance a diverse number of outside interests and still has all three relays ranked among the top four in WNY.
Consider that Daniel Cho has earned state recognition as a cello player, Ben Yao participates in the Science Olympiad and James Jiang is in an advanced math program at UB.
“They are unbelievably well-rounded, it’s amazing,” said coach Mike Doerfler. “It does make it a little hard for us to get over hump and beat Orchard Park and Clarence, but we do quite well for what they can give us.”
The Flames do not have a roster loaded with club swimmers, but they’ve still managed a 9-2 record with the only losses coming to powers OP and Clarence. They’ve had noteworthy wins over Williamsville North and Starpoint.
Even with their focus on the big picture – family, school and swimming, the Flames accomplished the near impossible last year by qualifying three relays for states. Bo Kim, Marc Ruszaj and Jiang return from those relay teams. Ruszaj also likes his chances in the 500. Kim and Jiang have also gone to states in the breast. Brothers Brett and Alec Siskar are the team’s true sprinters and come from a line of sprinters, as their older brother Kyle swam for North.
• Junior Alec Toth of Starpoint reached the state finals last year in the 200 and 500 free; he owns the school record in both. A trip to states this year would be his third. He’s unbeaten so far in the 200 with a season-best 1:50.07. His league rival Jack Hughes of Williamsville South is ranked ahead of him in both events.
• The late Gary Grant will be remembered prior to the start of the class meets and Sectionals next month. The popular Alden coach died in September at age 46 from injuries to his head and spinal cord incurred after a bike crash at a triathlon in Dunkirk. His story will be published in the program and a tribute will be read before the start of both events.
“It’s just a tragic loss in 100 different ways,” said Section VI co-chairman Al Fritzinger. “It’s such a loss. He was one of my go-to guys for the class meets sectional. He was so dependable, so efficient you could ask as him to take on a task and you knew it would get done.”
• Orchard Park’s Zach Healy, Liam Hoover and Nolan McArdle were on the state team a year ago and have been on the varsity since eighth grade. They have the Quakers off to a 10-0 start overall and 6-0 in ECIC I. Hoover, a sophomore, can swim several events, but is at his best in the 200 IM and 100 fly. McArdle and Brian Manley got a late start this season as they were members of OP’s volleyball team that won the Section VI Class A title. OP has two divers ranked among the Top 10 in Western New York, Gordon Holden and Jake Ortiz.
• Clarence (8-1, 5-1) suffered its first loss of the season on Friday to Orchard Park and still has to face Williamsville North.
The Red Devils swept all three relays last year at sectionals. Mike Le and Phil Nanula return from those relays. Lost is Nick Hook, who moved with his family to Texas in the offseason. Joe Lawrence and Justin Gill are both ranked in the top 10 in the ’fly. Le, Nanula, Lawrence and Nate Kreher return from last year’s state team.
The coaching reins have been handed to co-coaches Danny Salvatore and Tom Steuer, who take over for the revered Eric McClaren. Bob Wood remains as diving coach.
“It’s daunting especially trying to follow in Coach Mac’s footsteps,” said Salvatore. “I’m still trying to get my footing and do right by the program. We’re giving it our best shot. It’s difficult, but it’s a blast. I think the boys are loving it and have adjusted well to Tom and I, and have made us feel very welcome.”
Like McClaren, Salvatore swam for Clarence. He continued his career at Cortland, graduating in 2012.
• Williamsville North (8-2) won its first five meets before bowing to Orchard Park and Williamsville East. Its next big test comes Jan. 29 against Clarence.
The Spartans have a nice core of seniors and some state meet experience. North’s 200 medley relay is ranked No. 1 in WNY. Senior Cameron MacDonald is No. 1 in the 50 free and is No. 2 in 100 free. He’s already qualified for states in both.
Senior Jerry Daigler is ranked No. 1 locally in the backstroke in a state-qualifying 54.79. He’s chasing the 30-year school record of 54.2 held by Dan O’Leary since 1973.
Junior Connor Mergler is No. 3 in the 50 free. He met the qualifying standard for states in the 50 on Friday with a 22.2 lead off in the 200 free relay.
Senior Josh Blumberg is the Spartans’ top breaststroker. MacDonald, Daigler and Mergler each went to states last year.
• Lew-Port has the best diver so far this season in junior Ryan Monteleone with a six-dive score of 316.50. Sean Kearns of Lockport and Jaron Williams of Niagara Falls give the Niagara Frontier League two additional ranked divers.
• Josh Miller of Niagara-Wheatfield owns the fastest time by a wide margin in the 100 butterfly in 53.75 and is also ranked in the 50 free and 100 back. Derek Secord of Lockport (50 free, 100 free), Justin Sagasta of Kenmore West (500 free) and Danny Peltier of Niagara-Wheatfield (100 breast) look to hold onto their local rankings. Frontier’s roster of swimmers back from last year’s state team includes: Dylan Anderson, Mike Disare, Evan Graesser and Tom and John Stoklosa.
Jake Caldwell’s gifts go way beyond the breaststroke. He played center and defensive tackle on Frewsburg’s football team in the fall. At the sport’s postseason banquet he was named the WNY Scholar Athlete of the Year. Besides being ranked No. 1 in his class with a 99.91 average, he scored a 1,570 on the SAT out of 1,600, including a perfect 800 on the critical reading.
He placed third in the state last year in the American Legion Oratorical contest, which was developed to provide a better understanding and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution. After swim practice, the Bears’ team captain said he studies an average of three hours a night, and has a passion for math. His No. 1 college choice is Yale.
“It takes constant work,” he said. “A lot of people who ask me how do you get to be so smart? And I tell them – read books. It helps me be an effective learner now and into the future. That’s the key. When you read books, and enjoy it, you learn without even knowing it. The ability to be willing to learn is important.”
Junior Jordan Powers of Southwestern looks to return to states after qualifying last year in the 200 and 500. Olean has the top team in the Southern Tier. Jeffrey Broadbent of the Huskies placed at sectionals in ’fly and Pat Brown, the coach’s son, has a shot at qualifying for states in the 50 free and 100 back.
Roy-Hart’s (11-0) boys need to beat Akron on Thursday to put the final touches on a seventh consecutive undefeated season. The Rams have won an impressive 97 league and non-leaguers against Genesee County in a row. They haven’t lost a meet since 2006 and are two-time defending Section VI Class C champions. Looking to do damage this year are junior Roy Phipps (50, 100) and senior Jeff Durbin. Phipps, Durbin, Lyle Wagner and Luke Brauer look to contend for the 400 free relay Class C crown.
The Newfane girls (9-0) have been undefeated in the Niagara-Orleans League for four years in a row, winning 55 straight meets. Senior Lil Masters specializes in the 200 and has been a double winner in most meets. Ki Ki Dy is a top sprinter with a season-best 25.9 in the 50 and a 56.8 in the 100. Freshman Ally DeBiase is one of the league’s top breaststrokers.
• City Honors and Hutch-Tech again are the class of the Buffalo Public Schools’ Syracuse Cup. Honors’ boys are led by two swimmers who are expected to figure prominently in the Section VI Class C meet, junior Gavin Harris and sophomore Henry Keane.
Harris is undefeated in the 100 fly and has qualified in four events while Keane has hit the cut time in seven. Keane is the defending All-High champion in the 100 free and breast, while Harris won last year’s crown in the butterfly.
The Lady Centaurs have been led all season by freshman Alize Allen, who broke city records in all but two meets this season. She won the 200 IM and butterfly at last year’s All-High meet.
Hutch-Tech’s top boy is sophomore Kevin Lopez-Rodriguez and seventh-grader David Bradshaw. Lopez-Rodriguez is undefeated in 100 fly and 100 back. Bradshaw has lost only two races all year. Two girls swimmers remain undefeated – freshman Cindy Mierczwa (100 fly, 200 free) and Ashley Barca (200 IM, 100 back). Anna Rodriguez of Buffalo Arts looks to defend her All-High title in the 50 free and breaststroke.
Charting the season
1/28 Hutch-Tech at City Honors, 4 p.m.
1/29 Niagara-Orleans Girls at Akron at 6 p.m.
1/31 Canisius vs. St. Joe’s, 4:30 p.m.
1/31 All-High meet at City Honors, 4 p.m.
2/1 ECIC Diving at Sweet Home, 4 p.m.
2/2 ECIC Small schools at Sweet Home, 10 a.m.
2/2 ECIC Large schools at Sweet Home, 2 p.m.
2/1 NFL Diving at Grand Island
2/2 NFL Swimming at Grand Island
2/1 Niagara-Orleans girls crossover at Akron
2/5 Niagara-Orleans Boys at Akron, 6 p.m.
2/5 CCAA meet at Olean Middle
2/8-9 Sect. VI Class Championships at Maryvale
2/12 All-Catholic Championships at ECC
2/15 Section VI Diving at Maryvale
2/15-16 Section VI Swimming at Clarence
2/28-3/2 NYS Championships at Webster