Twenty-four hundredths of a second was the difference between Half Hollow Hills senior Justin Chang posting a state qualifying time in the 100 meter backstroke and falling just shy for the second straight season.
Chang felt confident halfway through his race, but the final 50 was much harder on him.
“Considering the last 50 I was really slow,” Chang said, “when I made it, I was really surprised. I was pretty happy, though.”
Chang’s 1:00.66 was just enough to earn his fourth individual state qualifying time — which came minutes after posting a state time of 24.78 in the 50 freestyle — in Hills’ 99-84 Suffolk I victory to claim its 10th straight regular-season league title Thursday.
“I honestly didn’t think he was going to get it but when he got it, it shocked all of us,” said junior Alex Park, who has posted state times in every individual event. “We knew he had it in him, it was just a matter of if he could do it after school and when he was tired, but he got it.”
Chang finished second in the 100 backstroke as Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan closed the final 50 with a huge burst. Kaplan won in 59.87 to post a state time after qualifying in the 200 individual medley earlier in the meet (2:10.58).
The 100 backstroke wasn’t the only event with a thrilling finish. The 200 freestyle was separated by less than one second. Hills senior Matt Mattera finished strong to win in 2:01.66 on senior day.
“It’s my last meet here at this pool,” Mattera said, “and just to win, it is really astonishing.”
The festivities began with Park showing he has talents outside the water. The defending 200 IM state champion began roasting a few of his teammates over the microphone before the race — joking about everything from swimming to movies to teachers.
“We’re close so we’re allowed to push each other a little bit,” Park said. “ . . . It was great because he wasn’t able to say anything back.”
But Park showed his serious side, ensuring Hills (6-0) was ready for this meet against rival Ward Melville.
“This meet was really special for us because the past decade or so, there’s only one team that we’ve lost to and it was this team, Ward Melville,” Park said. “So every time we go into a dual meet with Ward Melville, we’re just a little bit more amped up.”
Park views the team’s strong finish as another reminder of where Hills swimming wants to be.
“We’re undefeated so this is kind of what we do and we are looking to dominate in this league and in this county,” Park said. “We’re all hyped up for counties and leagues.”