The stage was set two years ago, but Alex Park never took for granted the opportunity in front of him.
The Half Hollow Hills East senior, competing for the combined Half Hollow Hills team, won his first state swim championship in the 200-yard individual medley as a sophomore in 2015. He followed it with another state title last season in Buffalo, and at yesterday’s state meet at the Nassau Aquatic Center, Park stamped his high school career as one of Long Island’s most decorated swimmers.
It didn’t take long for Park to separate himself from the pack, winning his third 200 IM state title in 1 minute, 50.28 seconds, beating Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser’s 1:51.17 second-place time.
There wasn’t an elaborate celebration from Park. A fist pump about as steady as his swim stroke before exiting the pool was about all the emotion he displayed.
“It’s such a blessing, honestly,” Park said. “It’s kind of indescribable but overall, I’ve had everyone behind me helping me along the way so it’s just been an amazing high school career for me. I’m just so happy I could end it like this.”
Park knew the expectations and pressure that went along with keeping his championship streak going.
“I’d like to say I came into this meet, season, year with a target on my back,” he said. “I had a lot of fast guys in that race and without a doubt, this meet is getting faster and faster each year.”
Park led Hills to its second straight public school state championship. Park along with Daniel Lee, Ethan Tack and Dylan Chan made up Hills’ 200 medley relay public school championship team, which set a public school record in an All-American automatic time of 1:33.42, and the 200 freestyle relay, which won the federation championship in an All-American consideration time of 1:25.27.
“It’s amazing,” Lee said. “We lost a bunch of great guys last year and going into this season, we knew we really had to work our tails off and we’ve been able to do so. We knew everyone was going to be gunning for us as defending champions and it’s just great to be able to defend our title.”
St. Anthony’s, which placed second in the federation team standings, set a federation state record in the 200 medley relay with the team of Conor Rutigliano, Michael Chang, Andrew Stange and Justin Meyn in an All-American automatic time of 1:33.32. Stange followed by winning the 200 freestyle in an All-American automatic time of 1:38.21 and later placed second in the 100 freestyle.
“It’s really an honor,” said Stange, who also won the state swimming and diving Scholar-Athlete Award. “I put a lot of hard work this year I think, just like the rest of the team, and here’s where it paid off for a lot of us.”
Rocky Point’s Chris O’Shea won the 100 butterfly in an All-American automatic time of 48.76 and placed second in the 100 back with a 49.26. It was a moment O’Shea couldn’t have even dreamed of when he started swimming.
“Absolutely not,” O’Shea said. “Not from Day One until maybe last year I was like ‘I could do it.’ To come from nothing to here, it’s something.”
Louser won the 100 breaststroke in an All-American consideration time of 55.74 and could mirror Park’s accomplishment in a few years.
“It’s definitely good motivation,” said Louser, a sophomore. “All my work’s paying off and it’s very nice to see it all happen.”
The third state championship capped off a terrific five years for Park in the pool, something his teammates will never forget.
“It’s going to be really weird, sad and odd not having him there next year,” said Tack, a junior. “He’s been the heart and soul of this team for five years so to lose him will be really tough.”
200 Medley relay (F): St. Anthony’s (Conor Rutigliano, Michael Chang, Andrew Stange, Justin Meyn) 1:33.32
200 Medley relay (P): Half Hollow Hills (Dylan Chan, Alex Park, Ethan Tack, Daniel Lee) 1:33.42
200 Freestyle: Andrew Stange, St. Anthony’s, 1:38.21
200 Individual medley: Alex Park, Half Hollow Hills, 1:50.28
Diving: Patrick Carter, West Islip, 580.05
100 Butterfly: Chris O’Shea, Rocky Point, 48.76
200 Freestyle relay: Half Hollow Hills (Daniel Lee, Ethan Tack, Dylan Chan, Alex Park) 1:25.27
100 Breaststroke: Jason Louser, Shoreham-Wading River, 55.74
Team (P): Half Hollow Hills, 205 points.
(F)-Federation; (P)-Public schools