Long Beach swimmers remain buoyed following superstorm

Long Beach senior Kevin Whelan works on his Long Beach senior Kevin Whelan works on his freestyle stroke during boys swimming team practice. (Jan. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: James Escher

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Within half an hour, the surge from an overflowing bay poured through ventilation ducts and filled the basement of the Whelan house on Lindell Boulevard.

It was the night of Oct. 29, during the onslaught of superstorm Sandy, and the Whelan family scrambled to clear the basement of any valuables they could salvage -- mostly photo albums and keepsakes.

"But in no time, the water was up to my chest," said Kevin Whelan, a senior on the Long Beach High School swimming team who stands about 6-2. "It just kept flooding. It was pretty scary."

Their basement eventually was submerged and, that night, the water reached about a foot high in the living room, sophomore Sean Whelan said. The Whelans have since been living with their grandmother in Oceanside and the boys' weekends are spent helping rebuild their parents' ravaged delicatessen, which has been the family business since 1973.

Long Beach swim coach Woody Davis, 79, lost his house in Island Park and he and his wife now rent an apartment in Long Beach. Lost in Davis' home were all the awards and team record books compiled in his 49 years as coach of the Marines.

Their stories are not unlike several others on this team and throughout the town. The upheaval and displacement made it difficult for the Marines even to organize preseason practices, and they missed the Carnival Relays in early December "for the first time since I've been here," Davis said.

In addition, the first floor of Long Beach High School was flooded -- the locker rooms and gymnasium included -- claiming several teams' equipment and uniforms.

But one bright spot for the swim team was this: The pool is on the second floor of the school.

"I was really looking forward to swimming season," Kevin Whelan said. "This whole time we've been under so much stress, we needed something else to focus on."

And focus they have. The Marines got off to a 6-0 start, including an impressive 102-84 victory over Bellmore-Merrick on Friday.

"Coach lost all his records, so we're just trying to swim fast and do our best to create new memories this season," Nicholas Stoski said. His time of 1 minute, 0.9 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke on Dec. 18 against Plainview JFK qualified the senior for the state championships.

Stoski and sophomore freestyler Max Willard each also earned a berth to compete in the CeraVe Invitational at Rutgers over the weekend.

Willard lived with his grandmother in Flushing after the storm, and diver Jonathan Kappel said his family only recently returned to their home in Harbor Isle.

"Yeah, we were dealt a bad hand, but you play it the best you can," assistant coach John Skudin said. "The good start tells us that we can persevere if we put our minds to it."

Long Beach, the preseason No. 3 seed, is seeking its 16th Nassau title and first since 2008. The Marines placed sixth in the county tournament last year. Standing in the way, though, are the heavy favorites -- Garden City, Jericho and four-time defending champ Great Neck South. Long Beach faces each of those teams this month.

But, given the circumstances, can the Marines sustain this run?

"There's added motivation," Willard said. "We want to win badly. We want to show everyone that even after the hurricane, we're still here standing; still a team to beat."

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