St. Francis Swim Team Repeats as Island Club Champions
As many coaches know, a team’s success doesn’t rely on talent alone, and Emily Cherry knows all too well why the swimming program at St. Francis Community Center has experienced big success the past two summers.
“We have depth,” said the sixth-year coach, whose squad captured a second straight Long Beach Island Club championship on Aug. 18 at Haven Beach Club, culminating another undefeated season. “We had 50 kids my first year as coach, and now we have 97. But they’re not just talented. They’re extremely dedicated. We have kids who had already gone home to start practicing for their schools’ fall sports, but they came back for this meet, to help their team.”
St. Francis proved that depth and dedication are a difficult combination to overcome, as the Sharks tallied 251 points to claim the title, their third in four years.
“We have a real hard-working team,” said Patric Hyland, one of the team’s captains. “We have a strong community of swimmers. We won in 2013 and 2015 as well, but this is the best team we’ve had so far. Every swimmer is committed to the team, and they’ve all been amazing this season.”
St. Francis won 13 of the 30 events contested, but six of the 10 relays, which helped the Sharks rack up big points. Haven Beach Club finished second with 199 points, followed by Brant Beach Yacht Club with 159 points, Barnegat Light Yacht Club with 137 and Surf City Yacht Club with 92.
During the regular season, the Sharks went 6-0, following up last year’s 5-0 season.
“We have no bad attitudes on this team,” Cherry said. “It’s a fun group to coach because they all want to be here. We have a lot of diversity and swimmers who put in a lot of time to improve themselves. One of our top swimmers this year was one of our slowest last year, so the commitment to improvement has been great. And they’re all willing to do whatever we, the coaches, ask of them.”
After the team of Kenny Barnicle, Ava Fields, Francesca Fields and Cole Radnay won the 8-and-under medley relay to start the championship meet, HBC’s Jack Moran, Brandon Dean, Lily Davis and Sydney Vandersnow won the 10-and-under medley, followed by a win for the 12-and-under crew of Summer Davis, Kacy Cauda, Liam Huy and Rex Cottone, giving Haven Beach a temporary lead in the standings.
But after the 14-and-under group of Danielle Silverman, Elyse Donohue, Kyle Smith and Jackson Hughes and the 16-and-under squad of Pepper Kolman, Carson Francisco, Jordan Burton and Hyland won the next two relays, St. Francis regained the lead and never gave it up.
“The biggest key for our team is that the swimmers have fun,” Cherry said. “For a summer league, this is a long season. But half the season, we swim in the bay, which is very different than swimming in the pool. It’s kind of hit or miss. As a coach, you don’t know what you’re going to get all the time. So I just tell them to swim their best and have fun, and it works.”
It worked for Smith and Hyland, who won the 14- and 16-and-under butterfly events, respectively, after BLYC’s Connor O’Neil, BBYC’s Ava Jobst and HBC’s Huy scored first-place points in the previous three events.
Haven Beach kept the deficit at 16 points through the backstroke events, as Drew Vandersnow, Moran and Connor Bingham won their respective races around the two won by St. Francis backstrokers Rebecca Heimowitz and Kolman.
During the next five events, HBC and SFCC each scored one victory – the Hurricanes’ Joe Borsellino won the 14-and-under breaststroke while the Sharks’ Francisco won the 16-and-under breaststroke. But the rest of the first-place points were divided up among two other clubs, as BLYC’s O’Neill won the 8-and-under breaststroke, followed by BBYC’s Jobst and Brooke Ingram capturing the 10- and 12-and-under breaststroke events.
Radnay then won the 8-and-under freestyle for St. Francis, pushing the gap to 22 points, before Barnegat Light’s Liam Sheward and Brant Beach’s Summer Partridge won the 10- and 12-and-under freestyle events, respectively. Hughes won the 14-and-under free for St. Francis, and BLYC’s John Loftus finished off the freestyle events by adding eight points to his team’s total.
Holding a 26-point lead into the freestyle relays, the Sharks dropped the hammer on their competition, winning the 8-, 14- and 16-and-under relays.
After the foursome of Cole and Carson Radnay, Barnicle and Fields cruised to the victory in the 8-and-under relay, Haven Beach won the next two behind the efforts of Moran, Sydney Vandersnow, Jack Greenleaf and Lily Davis in the 10-and-under relay and Summer Davis, Rex and Ava Cottone and Huy in the 12-and-under relay.
The relay of Hughes, Silverman, Donohue and Smith sealed the victory for St. Francis by winning the 14-and-under free relay, before the Sharks finished up with a winning effort by the team of Kolman, Burton, Francisco and Hyland.
“This team has an all-around togetherness that’s just awesome,” said assistant coach Ian Roth. “Having that togetherness is huge because everybody on the team feeds off it. That’s why we’ve had so much success the past few years.”
With a sort of funny twist, 8-and-under swimmer Erynn McInerney made a rather sly request to Cherry prior to the freestyle relays.
“Erynn asked if she could push me into the pool if we won the meet,” Cherry said with a smile. “She gave me this little, fingertip push, but it did the job.”
— David Biggy