Barnegat Boys Swim Team Falls to Oakcrest in State Sectional Final

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 21, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy The Barnegat boys swim team gathers after its NJSIAA South Jersey Group C championship contest against Oakcrest. The Bengals finished the season 10-2-1.

Last year, when the Barnegat boys swim team competed inside the mammoth facility at Gloucester Institute of Technology, Haddonfield made sure the Bengals’ first time in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group C semifinals wasn’t a pleasant endeavor.

On Feb. 14, the Bengals’ first time in a section championship meet wasn’t quite as big a downer. Still, Oakcrest did enough damage in the freestyle events and Barnegat couldn’t keep pace.

“We knew it would be a tough meet for us,” said head coach Emily Cherry, whose squad finished 10-2-1 following the 103-67 loss to the Falcons. “We knew the freestyle events were going to be an issue, and they did what they had to do in those events to win the meet. We swam good times. Oakcrest was just a better team tonight.”

From the opening relay – the 200-yard medley – the Falcons made it clear that they would be the aggressor in the pool. Their lead medley team got out to an early lead and maintained it throughout, while Barnegat’s crew of Matt Zielinski, Dylan Cappuccio, Kyle Smith and Kaden Jason grabbed second in 1:50.19. Oakcrest’s second squad finished third, giving the Falcons an immediate 10-4 lead they never relinquished.

In the next event, Oakcrest stretched its leads to eight points during the 200-yard freestyle, and then pushed that margin to 12 in the 200-yard individual medley. In the 50-yard freestyle, the Falcons swept the top-three positions to make it 42-20 and the air was out of Barnegat’s sail.

After Zielinski grabbed second in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of :58.22 and Smith was right behind him in third with a :59.40, the Bengals stalled Oakcrest’s lead at 22 points for the moment. But the Falcons swept another freestyle sprint – the 100-yard free – and the contest was all but over at that point.

Colby Pearson scored the first of Barnegat’s two victories in the 500-yard freestyle, clocking a fantastic time of 5:23.79 to win by nearly eight seconds. But Oakcrest took the next three positions to seal the victory with four events left. In the 100-yard breaststroke, Cappuccio took first with a time of 1:08.81 and Joseph Coleman wasn’t far behind, swiping second in 1:15.22 for the Bengals’ only positive point margin in an event.

Despite the loss and not bringing home that first sectional title in school history – no Barnegat team has ever won a section championship to date – there is a silver lining. All but Zielinski and senior classmate Maxwell Lares should be back next season.

“We’re already excited for next year,” Pearson said. “We’re going to miss Max and Matt, but we have a whole junior class and a lot of underclassmen who are going to be that much better next year. We lost today, but we’re solid and we’re going to be back. This was a first step for us.”

And as Cherry pointed out, her program has done nothing other than take steps forward since its inception. This year’s appearance in the state tournament was the fifth straight for the Barnegat boys. Making the semifinals last year was a first. Reaching this year’s final was a first.

“Every year we’ve been here, it’s been better,” she said. “We’re trending upward, and this team is 100 percent ready to take the next step, which is to win the section title. We have a hard-working, dedicated group of swimmers leading this team. They brought it tonight and swam their butts off. They love the sport, and we can look forward to next year.”

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