The Section 1 runner-up Ardsley/Hastings/Edgemont/Dobbs Ferry/Irvington boys swim team got off to a hot start this season, knocking off two top rivals in virtual meets last week. AHEDI topped Horace Greeley 97-79 and Scarsdale 101-69.
With their top 200 medley relay team being disqualified to open the meet against Scarsdale, AHEDI didn’t know if that would cost them the meet as AHEDI was at Ardsley Middle School, Scarsdale at the YWCA in White Plains. Times have to be entered by 9 p.m., so it is often hours later before teams know who won meets during the COVID-19 season.
“With that first DQ I think it put every single event on the map for the rest of the night,” coach Tobey Saracino said at the time. “And they won’t know that for a couple of hours. Don’t tell [Scarsdale coach] Inga [DeNunzio].”
Saracino added, “My boys just asked me, ‘Do you think we won?’ I said, ‘Guys, I have no idea.’”
What’s good about swimming is the boys can still race against their teammates and also against the clock. While there is no state meet this year, there is expected to be a virtual sectional championship in late February, so they can still measure themselves against typical cut times for both championship events.
“They can see where they are,” Saracino said. “It’s fantastic because I think it gives them the mindset to know what they need to do to move forward and to feel that internal success. That’s very important as a swimmer, especially when it’s just you as an individual athlete to be able to have something in your head that you can grasp onto and say, ‘Wow, I did great today,’ and then build on that.”
Edgemont senior Michael Lese hasn’t hit the big cut times in his four years on the team, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten better and made an impact. Coach Ilan Noach walked past Lese and excitedly proclaimed, “He swam fantastic! Most improved from a year ago. No question about it.”
Lese has been swimming for AHEDI and Empire, only taking a break last spring when everything shut down. He’s back reenergized and making strides.
“Over the years with Empire and each year I was on varsity I’ve been able to improve my times, specifically my freestyle,” Lese said. “I’ve always been happy with my freestyle. From last year I’ve cut off about three seconds from my 100 free, which I’m really happy about.”
Like everyone else, he feared there would be no season. There is a season, though it looks a bit different. Still, the coaches have scheduled eight meets in a very short period of time this month.
Though it’s five schools merged together, there is definite camaraderie that builds and certainly friendly competition in the water.
“One of the big things I noticed is we didn’t do our team cheer because we usually huddle together when we do it normally, so hopefully we can try to do that in the meets going forward,” Lese said. “It’s also weird not being able to see your competition next to you. How I get a lot of my motivation is seeing my competitor next to me and trying to just go faster than him.”
Justin Wong, another Edgemont senior, remembers freshman year “like it was just yesterday.” He’s grown with the program over the years to the point that both the individual and the team both are now fierce competitors within Section 1.
“We’ve been improving and getting faster each year, improving on what we have, and even though we lost seniors we have guys stepping up each year and training hard,” Wong said. “You can see that here and I’m definitely playing a bigger role than I did in my freshman year. I’m improving and working hard and this year shows everyone has worked hard in the offseason.”
When the pandemic hit last winter, the swim season had just wrapped up, a close call with the New York State championships, so this is the first boys swim season impacted. It has forced protocols to change and coaches to change expectations. The coaches are pushing the kids to focus on personal goals and whatever happens, happens.
“Our goal is to make sure these kids get their opportunities this year,” Saracino said. “I feel bad for the seniors because they’re not getting their full experience with states and sectionals and live meets, but at least they’re getting something. Our boys and our girls did not miss anything last year — a lot of athletes did. The fact that you can have a compromise season as opposed to no season at all is a win. I’ll take it.
That said, the team will go hard in search of a Section 1 title.
“We’ll be here, we’ll suit the boys up, get them ready, taper them down and see what they can do,” Saracino said. “Christian Lee is swimming so fast. He looks great and he’s only a sophomore. I told him to hit the All-American cuts this year. They’re faster than his best times, but not by much. I think this is a time to start looking at this differently.”
It won’t be easy as all pools are different and has an impact when you’re swimming in a different location than your competition.
“Is this the fastest pool to put in fast times? It is not,” Saracino said. “It’s a very shallow pool, a little bit warmer, so that’s going to put off some of those faster times that they need to hit. Can we win the section? We don’t know. It’s an asterisk year. If we win it great, if we don’t OK.”
The AHEDI boys are focused on putting in a stellar month.
“Even in this weird time I think we’re trying to make the best of this situation and just swimming our hearts out,” Wong said.