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Top LI swimmers, divers just want to compete, no matter the parameters

Justin Whang of Great Neck South races to

Justin Whang of Great Neck South races to victory in the 200-yard individual medley event during the NYSPHSAA boys swimming state championship meet at Nassau Aquatic Center in East Meadow on Saturday, March 7, 2020. Credit: James Escher

There will be no chance for a repeat in the boys state swimming championships for Justin Whang or Nick Shopis. Nicholas Shen won’t be able to continue his climb up the state diving rankings, in hopes of ending his high school diving tenure with a state crown. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down all winter NYSPHSAA state championships.

But if you ask any of them about this, they’ll mostly shrug their shoulders. Sure, it would be great to compete for and win a state title. But if the option is a season without a state championship or no season at all, the answer is overwhelming.

"I was really concerned and unsure if we would have a season, so obviously it’s great being able to swim my senior year, my last year of high school," Whang said. "It’s really exciting. I’m a little bummed we won’t have state championships, but it’s better than nothing."

Great Neck South's Whang, who won the state championship in the 200-yard individual medley last season and plans to swim for Yale next season, said he had no hesitations about swimming for his high school once the state and county approved a boys swimming season. He talked it over with his family, and once they were comfortable with him competing, he was ready.

As for his mindset, the senior swimmer will be pushing himself as hard as he can regardless of a state meet. Whang also said he hopes to motivate his teammates to improve through the abbreviated season.

"Not much really changes," Whang said. "I’m still going to be training as hard as I can, but there’s not that same end goal. But the journey going there should still be the same."

Chaminade senior Shopis, who won the state championship in the 100 freestyle last season and plans to swim for Bucknell next season, said he still will have his eyes on state and personal records this year. He’ll be focused on what he can control. CHSAA, Nassau and Suffolk still might hold championship meets in February.

"Even with everything going on, we still have the mindset everybody has to work hard, do what we can outside and inside the pool when we can," Shopis said. "No one is really thinking, ‘What if this happens, what if that happens?' We have our eyes on the championship in February."

Chaminade boys swimming coach Angelo Pellicone said for Shopis, and likely many other swimmers across New York, this season largely will be based on self motivation.

"He’s a motivated kid," Pellicone said. "He has some goal times in his head. And racing himself and racing the clock will be different than racing a competitor, but he will still be looking to have that top time in the state even though he [might not] be able to have that opportunity to swim head-to-head with the best in one final meet."

Great Neck South's Shen has won the last three Nassau diving championships and placed fifth in the state last season. He said it was challenging to motivate himself to train at times, and even began doing virtual workouts with other divers during quarantine.

"I don’t want to lose my last year," said Shen, who plans to dive at Brown University next year. "I want to end it on a good note because it’s my senior year, so I’m pretty motivated for that one."

COVID-19 Notes

Nassau, Suffolk and CHSAA schools and officials will be strictly enforcing mask wearing and social distancing at all events. Everyone in the pool area will be required to wear masks unless they are on the starting blocks or immediately drying off following a race, Nassau and state boys swimming coordinator Peter Hugo said.

Nassau and the CHSAA also will have each team swim on one side of the pool instead of alternating lanes during dual meets. Suffolk is considering doing the same.

Chaminade will be hosting four dual meets on Saturdays throughout the season, inviting most of the league to utilize its pool. The CHSAA also will be leaning on many of the implementations that worked during the girls swimming season, a fall sport.

Some public schools will be holding virtual meets. Hugo said the goal is for two officials to be at all virtual races to ensure time validity and each team will report their times to Hugo, who will approve times and wait for both schools in the dual meet to report before posting times online.

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