LI swimmers feel at home for state championships

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Tom Luchsinger is down-to-earth and sensible when it comes to talking about his athletic pursuits, without sounding the least self-centered. So he did not want a reporter to get the wrong idea when asked about having talked openly about how he will try to break the national high school record in the 200-yard freestyle at the state swimming championships Friday and Saturday at the Nassau Aquatics Center in East Meadow.

He didn't deny it, either. And even though the Mt. Sinai senior, who swam the event in 1 minute, 37.72 seconds at the Suffolk County Championships last month, is unlikely to break Joe Hudepohl's 18-year-old record of 1 minute, 34.96 seconds, his willingness to draw attention to doing just that illustrates his confidence and, perhaps, the desire to put on a show.

Although there are varying opinions surrounding how much Long Islanders' general knowledge of the facility will help them this weekend, there is unanimity that the ability to perform in front of their families and closest friends is the one advantage they have over their counterparts from other parts of the state.

Luchsinger didn't even have to look at the board to know he set the state record in the 200 freestyle last year.

"The first people I saw were my parents, and next to them was a huge crowd of family and close friends jumping up and down waving," Luchsinger said. "They were all very excited. So it's more of a fun feeling for me."

Long Beach coach Woody Davis, however, says that too much is made of a given swimmer being familiar with a given venue.

"Our kids are used to the pool and the turns, and the kids get to sleep in their homes," Davis said. "But at the end of the day the water is the water. It's chlorinated and its filtered. The starter is the starter. The officials are the officials. It doesn't really create an advantage other than that our kids don't have to fly to Buffalo. It's an individual thing. It comes down to a given day, is the kid on or off?"

Jordan Solomon, a Jericho senior who qualified for the 100 backstroke, says experience tells him that there is a mental edge to being comfortable. When the meet was held at Erie Community College in Buffalo two years ago, there was no such comfort or familiarity.

"I'm very used to the pool," he said. "I love the whole facility. I just like the depth, the temperature, how big it is, everything. In Buffalo I remember having to be outside and it was freezing, and I know it affected my swimming. It felt like a foreign place to me. You're not aware of what's around you so it feels different from what you're normally used to."

Holy Trinity's Jack Wagner, who will swim the 200 individual medley and the 100 freestyle this weekend and trains year-round with Long Island Aquatic Club at Nassau Aquatics Center, doesn't feel any pressure to put on a show, but predicts he won't realize it's the state championship until he puts on his best gear and sees the large crowd.

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"When you practice there every day it's hard to consider it as a big-race pool," Wagner said. "You're just there so much it's hard to convince yourself that there's going to be a meet there. All the people being there, and knowing I have competition, that gets me psyched up and then I'll be ready to go."

Luchsinger expects that the swimmers outside of the local area won't forget to pack their mental toughness.

"In a competitive sport, you're really trying to block out things like your surroundings," he said. "With great competitors, I don't think it's going to pose a problem at all for them. They're such high-level athletes and used to traveling and being in different areas of the country."

And the world. Luchsinger and Rye senior Ryan Feeley swam at the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in January in Guam. "That's about as far away and unfamiliar as it comes," Luchsinger said.

His personal coach, Barry Roffer, wouldn't predict that Luchsinger will break the national record. But he's glad all of his supporters will be there to see him try."I think it's nice for his friends; they will be able to come to the meet, which we all couldn't do if it was in Buffalo," Roffer said. "It's nice. It adds a lot of excitement for all of us."

Solomon agrees.

"The thing we're really excited about is that our families can come and support us," he said. "To have a crowd of people chanting your name while you're up there, it make you feel incredible inside. It's home."