LIers set records in state swimming prelims

Smithtown East senior Ben Cono swims during his Smithtown East senior Ben Cono swims during his record-setting 100 butterfly at the NYSPHSAA Boys Swimming and Diving Championship at the Webster Aquatic Center at Webster-Schroeder High School on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. Photo Credit: Robert Kirkham

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WEBSTER, N.Y. - It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but Long Island's top swimmers keep breaking state records.

At the state championship preliminary meet Friday, Smithtown senior Ben Cono broke the 100-yard breaststroke mark in 55.01 seconds and Hauppauge senior Justin Plaschka broke records in the 50 freestyle (20.08) and 100 freestyle (44.12).

"I felt like I was on my game this meet," Plaschka said. "I'm very happy with my times."

Plaschka, who has committed to Notre Dame, says he blasts 50 Cent to pump himself up before he hits the pool. And the rap star's music seems to be working.

"He's phenomenal," Hauppauge coach Rich Lionetti said. "Anything he wants to set out to do, he does."

In the diving finals, West Islip freshman Patrick Carter placed the highest among Long Islanders, 15th, with a score of 420.75.

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"I feel like I've improved a lot since last year," said Carter, who was 16th at states last year. "I've come a long way."

Two weeks ago at the Suffolk County championship meet, Cono overtook Huntington junior Gunther Cassell's throne when he swam the 100 breaststroke in a state-record 56.08.

Friday, Cassell broke Cono's record in 55.91, and two heats later, Cono regained bragging rights when he swam the race in 55.01.

"We push each other to go faster," Cono said. "We definitely would not be in the same place if we didn't have each other."

Prior to the race, the friends and rivals were sitting next to each other on the bench, chatting away.

"They totally respect each other's talents and they feed off of each other," Smithtown coach Terry Martin said.

"If I didn't have this kind of competition with him, I don't know where I would be right now," Cassell said of his swimming buddy. "I need Ben probably just as much as he needs me."

After 30 years of coaching, Huntington's Gil Smith was planning on retiring a couple of years ago, but once Cassell placed first in states his freshman year, Smith knew it wasn't yet time to hang up his coaching towel.

"When he's done, I'm done," Smith said.

Cassell has been the reigning state breaststroke champion for two years, but this year, he will have to swim his heart out against one of his close friends in order to keep his title.

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The champion is more than confident in him and Cono's abilities.

"We're the best breaststrokers on LI," Cassell said. "And if you want to take us on, bring it on."

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