Title tracker: These North Jersey swim teams are taking home division championships
It's title time once again in the world of North Jersey swimming.
Teams in the Big North and NJIC hit the pool for the league championship meets over the past few days, and here are the winners.
Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights boys, Leonia/Palisades Park girls
NJIC, Saturday at Lyndhurst
Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights coach Laura Mielke hovered near the scorer's table for almost four hours Saturday before getting to put down the clipboard for good.
It would take every ounce of speed to give the conference title a new home.
The Boilermakers won the NJIC meet for the first time in program history by scoring 141.5 points in a close three-team boys race with Leonia/Palisades Park (138) and Rutherford (126).
A back-and-forth battle was decided in the final race when the Boilermakers won both the A and B heats in the 400 freestyle relay. Pawel Drzymala anchored the top group to victory to avenge a one-point loss to the unbeaten and defending-champion Bulldogs.
"We were certain we were going to win that last relay," Drzymala said. "We were really counting on the B relay. The swimmers on the B relay just really kicked in some extra speed. They really worked hard and I'm proud of them."
Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights finished with four wins overall, including individual titles from Ryan Ng in the 50 freestyle and Drzymala in the medley and 500 freestyle.
The distance race was especially pivotal as Drzymala (4:53.08) upset Bergen County medalist Vincent Kim by ten-hundredths of a second. It was a four-point swing that made all the difference later in the meet.
"He's an integral part of the team," Mielke said. "He really motivates the guys and gets them going. All the boys do. They really rally around each other. They're such a team. I love it."
Dryzmala said his plan in the 500 was to hang around the Lions star for a while and then go all out in the last two laps. His job was much easier in the winner-take-all relay with Gian Lopez, Jeremy Ore and Anthony Gasowski handing the junior a sizable lead.
"It's huge for Garfield," Mielke said. "They are such a team. They come and see me all day in the office. They're with me. We're strategizing and we're working together to be the best team we can be."
No one was better on the girls side than Leonia/Palisades Park. The Lions proved it by scoring 187 points in a decisive win over runner-up Rutherford (115). It's the program's eighth straight meet title and nine straight conference title, including the 2021 year when only dual meets were held.
"It's incredible," coach Tim Ryan said. "It really is. The kids change every year, but the thing that's constant is the ones that we have are working hard and doing everything to get better."
A pair of meet records went down on Saturday with Secaucus' Haley Nowak taking the butterfly and Leonia/Palisades Park's Rebekah Jung speeding through the 100 freestyle. Jung, a sophomore, went unbeaten in her four races.
"She just always brings it," Ryan said. "She's a hard-worker. She shows up ready to swim fast. She doesn't question anything she's in. She's ready to go across the board. I went up to her and said, you have an opportunity to do something special."
Boys team score: 1. Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights, 141.5; 2. Leonia/Palisades Park, 138; 3. Rutherford, 126; 4. Secaucus, 37.5; 5. New Milford, 32; 6. Harrison, 30; 7. Lyndhurst/North Arlington, 12.
Individual winners: Leonia/Palisades Park's Vincent Kim (200 freestyle), Matthew Chang (butterfly and backstroke) and Ryan Choi (breaststroke), Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights' Pawel Drzymala (individual medley and 500 freestyle) and Ryan Ng (50 freestyle), Rutherford's Greg Farnum (9100 freestyle).
Girls team score: 1. Leonia/Palisades Park, 187; 2. Rutherford, 115; 3. Secaucus, 87; 4. Garfield/Hasbrouck Heights, 73; 5. New Milford, 22; 6. Harrison, 14; 7. Weehawken, 6; 8. Lyndhurst/North Arlington.
Individual winners: Rutherford's Caroline Gemelli (200 freestyle), Leonia/Palisades Park's Rebekah Jung (individual medley and 100 freestyle), Maria Lazarou (50 freestyle) and Lea Lee (500 freestyle and 100 backstroke), Secaucus' Haley Nowak (butterfly and breaststroke).
Big North American, Thursday at Hackensack
The secret is out on the Ramsey boys swim team. Winning the first league title in program history will do that.
The Rams swam into uncharted waters on Thursday night by rallying for a 20-point victory over Demarest, even without taking a single event. The math still added up in their favor with everyone scoring in double-digits and all A and B relay teams placing in the top five.
It was validation for coach Gary Bach, who hinted that his team could surprise some people back in December.
"To win the division this year was huge," senior Lucas Steele said.
"The program has come a long way and it speaks to the swimmers and coaches that we have. I'm honored to be a part of such a great team of swimmers. At the beginning of the season, the goal was to win a division title. This message resonated with the team."
Demarest churned out four victories on the boys side while Mahwah had another four thanks to a perfect night from Peyton Egg.
Ramsey sophomores Hojin Nam and Jonathan Plavnik went 2-3 in the 50 freestyle to put their team on track for a breakthrough. The sprinters are part of a young core for the Ramsey boys, who will only graduate two of their 17 swimmers this spring.
"We are coming off our best season ever, and they worked really hard in the offseason," Bach said. "What we lack in stud swimmers we make up for in depth. We've won a few meets this year without even winning a race. My boys know how the scoring works, so they don't let it that affect them."
Senior Casey McLaughlin went 4-for-4 on on the girls side to vault Ramsey past regular-season champion Indian Hills by 24 points. The Rams were projected to finish third in the meet after losing a dual to Indian Hills earlier in the season.
Bach described it an emotional win for the team, which has rallied around senior Arden Dowd all season long. Dowd placed seventh in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 200 after being paralyzed last fall with a rare neurological disorder.
The Rider-bound McLaughlin said he was shocked to see the Rams up 27 after the backstroke. McLaughlin called a meeting with the rest of the 400 free relay to tell her teammates that the upset was in reach. McLaughlin, Lily Huggard, Keely McGhee and Julia Weir punctuated the night by winning the race in 3:52.53. It gave the Rams their third straight American title, including in 2021 when only dual competition was held.
"I will cherish this meet for the rest of my life," McLaughlin said. "The pure heart and determination that this team has is something North Jersey hasn't seen before. A small one town team is so bonded together and that is enough for us to bring back the title."
Boys team score: 1. Ramsey, 335; 2. Demarest, 315; 3. Mahwah, 238; 4. Ramapo, 179; 5. Teaneck, 105; 6. Indian Hills, 102.
Individual champions: Indian Hills' Steven Roche (200 freestyle and breaststroke), Demarest's Eric Lee (individual medley), Eric Hwang (butterfly) and Rohan Srinivasan (backstroke), Mahwah's Peyton Egg (50 freestyle and 100 freestyle), Ramapo's Warren Hsu (500 freestyle).
Girls team score: 1. Ramsey, 353; 2. Indian Hills, 329; 3. Ramapo, 221; 4. Demarest, 214; 5. Mahwah, 86; 6. Teaneck, 81.
Individual champions: Ramsey's Casey McLaughlin (200 freestyle and butterfly) and Keely McGhee (500 freestyle), Indian Hills' Katie Lawrence (individual medley and 100 freestyle) and Deana Syrneva (50 freestyle), Demarest's Marta Gershanok (backstroke) and Elaine Kim (breaststroke).
Big North Liberty, Thursday at Passaic Tech
In the span of a year, Passaic Tech's Joseph Stauss has gone from a swimming novice to a state meet qualifier.
Stauss won the butterfly in a speedy 52.51 seconds on Thursday to lift the Bulldogs to their second straight division title. It's more than three seconds faster than his time at the Passaic County championships this season.
The Hawthorne native added two more wins in the relays to show how far he's come since joining the team last year as a sophomore.
"Crazy athlete," Passaic Tech boys swim coach Denise Aronson said. "He tried fencing his freshman year. Lucky for the swim team he wanted a change."
Stauss and the Passaic Tech boys finished with the most points of any public school at the Big North meets (466). The Bulldogs turned in first-place times in nine of the 11 events with individual gold from Ariel Molina, Adam Kiss, Tyler Roer, Zachary McKatten and Michael Sanchez.
The Passaic Tech girls secured their fourth straight Big North Liberty title after fending off a challenge from division newcomer Lakeland/West Milford in second. The Bulldogs were powered by their star-studded freshman class with Francesca Cordero and Julia Lo swimming to their first career division titles in the IM and butterfly, respectively.
"They're great," Passaic Tech girls swim coach Gen Wall said earlier this season. "Honestly the senior class that graduated last year was the same way when they first came in. They're all focused. It's all about team. The culture of our team is it's all about team. We celebrate individual wins, but it's not here is the star. It's not about that at all. It's all about the depth of the team."
Boys team score: 1. Passaic Tech, 466; 2. Pascack Regional, 296; 3. Lakeland/West Milford, 157; 4. Clifton, 153; 5. Passaic, 69.
Individual champions: Passaic Tech's Ariel Molina (200 freestyle), Adam Kiss (individual medley), Joseph Stauss (butterfly), Tyler Roer (500 freestyle), Zachary McKatten (backstroke) and Michael Sanchez (breaststroke), Pascack Regional's Zachary Berde (50 freestyle), Clifton's Franke Coste (100 freestyle)
Girls team score: 1. Passaic Tech, 421; 2. Lakeland/West Milford, 315; 3. Pascack Regional, 295; 4. Clifton, 164; 5. Passaic, 41.
Individual champions: Lakeland/West Milford's Emily Kebrdle (200 and 500 freestyles), Passaic Tech's Francesca Cordero (individual medley), Julia Lo (butterfly), Pascack Regional's Karen Kirkorian (50 and 100 freestyles), Amanda Bramley (backstroke) and Jessica Malocha (breaststroke).
Tenafly boys, Wayne Hills girls
Big North Patriot, Wednesday at Hackensack
Wayne Hills girls swimming coach Mike Shale suspected that he might need a change of clothes Wednesday night.
While the Patriots don't have a single state meet qualifier, he's built back the depth that characterized his 24-year tenure along Berdan Ave. The reward was the program's first league championship since 2016 and a shove into Hackensack waters.
"I only had one freshman come out so we're only carrying 14 girls," Shale said. "But to their credit, they knew it was possible and they stepped up at every step of the way. So I'm really very proud of the girls."
Wayne Hills only won two events at the Big North Patriot meet, but finished first in the race that matters most. The Patriots outscored runner-up Tenafly, 378-273, with three silver medals from Alexis Gentile and Sofia Wunej. It checks off a goal set back in October for the Patriots (9-0), who went unbeaten in the regular season and placed second at the Passaic County championships.
Shale brought up Erin Durot as the kind of unsung hero who's been emblematic of their success. Durot came out for the team last year as a sophomore and dropped massive time since then. At the league meet, she went from the 13th seed to the fifth-place finisher in the 50 freestyle.
"We'd all like to have some amazing swimmers out there, but it really was a team effort," Shale said. "We had kids today swimming four, five, six places better than they were seeded. Everyone stepped up and everyone was ready to swim. It makes it a little bit sweeter."
Tenafly collected its fourth straight league championship on the boys side by winning all but the final event. State champion Aaron Baltaytis cruised to another four victories while pushing the Tigers over second-place Wayne Valley by a 380-238 margin.
Tenafly coach Matt White said he'll remember this group for its enthusiasm for swimming and finding ways to optimize the lineup.
"It's nice that even though they're fast, they also see the strategy aspect," White said. "They're always researching other teams. They're always coming up with ideas for lineups."
One of the themes of the night was the wave of breakout stars. There were seven first-time champions in total, including Tenafly sophomore Emelia Lan. She sprinted to the top in the 50 and 100 freestyles while producing both school records in the process.
Tenafly freshmen Sienna Plutzer picked up her first piece of high school hardware with a split-second win over Wayne Hills' Callie Ng in the breaststroke. For the gregarious Tigers rookie, it took a singular mindset and a friendly nudge.
"I just had to go in and swim it," Plutzer said. "Delete the competitors away from you and go in and swim it. Look forward. Put your head down. Just swim the race."
"All my teammates from Tenafly helped me as well. They've been pushing me. As I got nervous before the race, they told me you got this. That definitely helped motivate me."
Boys team score: No. 1 Tenafly, 380; 2. Wayne Valley, 238; 3. Old Tappan, 235; 4. Wayne Hills, 214.
Individual winners: Tenafly's Kyle Lee (200 freestyle), Andrew Lee (individual medley and 100 freestyle), Aaron Baltaytis (50 freestyle and butterfly), Roy Dafinoiu (500 freestyle), Hayoung Choe (backstroke) and Jason Yi (breaststroke).
Girls team score: 1. Wayne Hills, 378; 2. Tenafly, 273; 3. Old Tappan, 249; 4. Paramus, 229; 5. Wayne Valley, 148.
Individual winners: Old Tappan's Vesa Kyqykaliu (200 and 500 freestyles) and Lily Martin (backstroke), Wayne Valley's Sarah Rodrigues (individual medley and butterfly), Tenafly's Emelia Lan (50 and 100 freestyles) and Sienna Plutzer (breaststroke).
Big North Freedom, Tuesday at Hackensack
Swimming titles are nothing new to Ridgewood and Isabel Lee.
The competition next to them was, though.
The Maroons double dipped on Tuesday at the Big North Freedom meet with both programs racing to the gold for the sixth straight year.
Realignment brought on a new challenge this winter with Northern Highlands moving over from the Patriot Division after a long period of success. The Highlanders had won 17 straight league titles in girls swimming and beat Ridgewood by single-digits on both sides of their dual this year.
Ridgewood managed to flip the script despite winning only four races throughout the night.
"I said it would come down to the second heat scores and the sixth-place swimmer because 12 people score," Ridgewood coach Kyle Schulke said. "Every one matters and you don't know if you're going to knock someone else out. I think that helped motivate them."
Ridgewood wound up with an 11-point win over Northern Highlands in girls swimming after tying each other for second at the Bergen County Meet of Champions.
Lee set the tone by anchoring the 200 medley relay to first place and adding her second straight league championship in the 50 freestyle. The junior sprinter had a little extra boost while facing club teammates Meghan Rourke and Jessie Wolf, who combined for four individual wins for Northern Highlands.
"It's awesome," Lee said. "I'm so proud of my team. We've all worked so hard and you can tell. When we're winning, everyone is cheering. We were all together at the end (when the scores were announced). I'm really happy and I think all of us are."
Hackensack built up a nice medal collection of its own with the 1-2 punch of Chris Jackson and Jaden Ellis. Jackson set the school record in the butterfly and 200 freestyle, while Ellis took down the program best in the 50.
Ridgewood freshman Josie Marino made history of her own with a school-record win in the breaststroke. While it gave Ridgewood some much-needed breathing room entering the final event, Marino was quick to cite her team's "all hands on deck" mentality.
"It feels nice, but overall it's a team effort," Marino said. "Everyone has to put in the work. It's nice to see everyone get excited about it, especially during the relays. It's fun to cheer for your friends."
Boys team score: 1. Ridgewood, 358; 2. Northern Highlands, 279; 3. Hackensack, 229; 4. Fair Lawn, 219; 5. River Dell/Westwood, 206.
Individual winners: Hackensack's Chris Jackson (200 freestyle and butterfly) and Jaden Ellis (50 and 100 freestyles), Fair Lawn's Alex Gorakine (individual medley) and Chris Li (breaststroke), Northern Highlands' Dylan Song (500 freestyle) and Johnathon Cheng (backstroke).
Girls team score: 1. Ridgewood, 412; 2. Northern Highlands, 401; 3. River Dell/Westwood, 203; 4. Fair Lawn, 171; 5. Hackensack, 98.
Individual winners: Northern Highlands' Jessie Wolf (200 and 500 freestyles), Meghan Rourke (individual medley and 100 freestyle), and Grace Lee (butterfly and backstroke), Ridgewood's Isabel Lee (50 freestyle) and Josie Marino (breaststroke).
Immaculate Heart girls, Bergen Catholic boys
Big North United, Tuesday at Passaic Tech
Immaculate Heart spread out the wealth on the way to another championship sweep.
The Blue Eagles took home the gold in all 11 events and produced a different winner in each individual race with the help of a staggering sophomore class.
Five swimmers from that class captured a title of their own, including repeat champions Isabella Piccinich in the 50 freestyle and Kayla Rodriguez in the butterfly.
It's the second championship in 10 days for IHA, which finished on top at the Bergen County meet earlier this season.
"The sophomore class continues to impress me with their growth as swimmers – who are constantly dropping time and contributing in our big meets – and as leaders," IHA and Bergen Catholic coach Lia Kunnapas said.
Bergen Catholic was equally as dominant, going unbeaten against non-public rivals Don Bosco and Paramus Catholic. The Crusaders followed a similar script with sophomores Eric Yoo and Jeremiah Tomioka producing two wins apiece to match junior teammate Doyee Kim. Yoo led a photo finish in the 50 freestyle (23.18) with only six-hundredths of a second separating him and Don Bosco's Ryan Locicero.
"It's always a goal of ours to win another league championship for both programs," Kunnapas said. "The teams swam well today and we are excited to come home with another league title."
Girls team score: 1. Immaculate Heart, 475; 2. Paramus Catholic, 181.
Individual winners: IHA's AvaGrace Zettler (200 freestyle), Madison Klak (individual medley), Isabella Piccinich (50 freestyle), Kayla Rodriguez (butterfly), Mariana Builes (100 freestyle), Elizabeth Vursta (500 freesetyle), Madison Assanah (backstroke) and Emma Dillane (breaststroke).
Boys team score: 1. Bergen Catholic, 462; 2. Don Bosco, 325; 3. Paramus Catholic, 147.
Individual winners: Bergen Catholic's Eric Kwon (200 freestyle), Doyee Kim (individual medley and backstroke), Eric Yoo (50 freestyle and 100 freestyle), Jeremiah Tomioka (butterfly and 500 freestyle), Dimitri Melnikov (breaststroke).
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: These North Jersey swim teams are taking home division titles in 2023