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Half Hollow Hills swimming dominance fueled by competition

Half Hollow Hills's Alex Park competes in

Half Hollow Hills's Alex Park competes in the New York State Public High School Boys Championship Meet at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Credit: Heather Ainsworth

There aren’t many teams on Long Island more dominant in their sport than Half Hollow Hills boys swimming.

Of the 16 Suffolk swimmers who have met qualifying times in individual events for the state meet in Buffalo March 4-5, eight are from Half Hollow Hills. Of those eight, four qualified in multiple events, led by junior Alex Park. He has qualified in five events.

Three HHH relay teams (200 medley, and the 200 and 400 freestyle) have also qualified.

Where does Half Hollow Hills — the nine-time defending county champion — draw its success? Well, practice, of course.

“When we do race,” Park said, “it’s off the block and we do get to push each other and race each other. It’s competitive.” Park added that “of course” there is smack talk and “there’s a competitive edge between all of us.”

That has spurred Hills to a 5-0 record this season. It’s helped Park post state qualifying times in every individual event, along with the other repeat qualifiers — sophomores Ethan Tack (four), Dylan Chan (three) and senior Justin Chang (two).

Seniors Harrison Tack and Matt Mattera, junior Daniel Lee and freshman Kabir Randhawa have qualified for Hills as well.

Park, who began swimming at age 10 and started competing on varsity in eighth grade, said qualifying in all events was important for him (he is allowed to compete in only two individual events in the state meet).

“That was my goal in the beginning of the season,” Park said. “I planned on qualifying for states in every single event because I thought it was reasonable and now that I’ve done it, I’m going to focus on my two events at state.”

One is the 200 individual medley, in which he is the defending state champion. He hasn’t decided on the other event. The junior wants to defend his title and finish top-five in whatever his other event is.

“My entire mindset has been focused on that race,” Park said, “because by far, that weekend was one of the most amazing weekends I’ve ever had. All year I’ve been training for the 200 IM to defend the title.”

Hills also finished first among public schools in the 400 free relay last year, and Park was a part of it.

Coach Chris Blumenstetter called Park the best leader he’s ever coached — and that includes on the football and volleyball staffs that he’s been a part of.

“If you want to be great, you do what he does,” Blumenstetter said.

Ethan Tack credits Park and the rest of his teammates for bringing the best out of the young swimmer. He loves the competitive yet encouraging practice environment.

“If it wasn’t for the guys we had on Hills,” Tack said, “I would not be as good as I am.”

Hills is focused on winning its 10th straight county championship at Suffolk Community College in three weeks. But even if the team accomplishes that, its mission is far from complete.

“We have lofty goals and our goals are always in the forefront of our mind,” Blumenstetter said. “When we set our mind to something, we are going to try to put our efforts toward that thing and now it’s a state championship.”

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