WEBSTER, N.Y. -- Gunther Cassell walked up to lane 5 and calmly shook the hands of the competitors to either side of him. The other swimmers in this final heat stood relatively still, moving slightly to keep loose as their names were announced. But not Cassell -- he jumped up and down, moved from side to side and leaned over the pool's edge and splashed water on his face, and even splashed some on the feet of the lane officials.
"I came up with that at one of my practices and I call it the 'awkward dance','' Cassell said. "You just get up on the block and awkward dance-it up and get pumped up in the strangest ways.''
It worked. Later, Cassell was dancing away again, this time atop the winner's podium at the New York State Swimming and Diving Championships after breaking the state record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 56.24 seconds. It was the second consecutive state championship in the event for the Huntington sophomore.
Cassell was seeded No. 2 in yesterday's final to Matthew Tanchick of Pittsford. They both broke to strong starts and were ahead of the field early. It was Tanchick who was in front as both swimmers made the final turn for the 25-yard sprint to the finish. That's when Cassell turned it on.
"I went all out and I had an adrenaline rush and everything was pumping and my heart was racing and I got my head in it and went out there and raced my race,'' Cassell said.
Tanchick touched in 56.66, but Cassell had already shaved .24 off the state record to win, making good on Huntington coach Gil Smith's prediction that his swimmer would overtake Tanchick and break the state record.
"I knew if he went out in 26.5 or better he had a chance to win it,'' Smith said. "I knew if he went out as slow as he did yesterday [in the prelims] he would have a hard time catching up. He went out faster today . . . he really hit his last turn and in his last 10 yards or so he was phenomenal. He reached down and dug in and took the race.''
Smith, who has been coaching at Huntington for 31 years, never had a state champion or an All-American before Cassell won his state title last year. Now he has the chance to ride Cassell for two more years.
"He's a tough swimmer and he did it again and I'm really proud of him," Smith said. "That's all that went through my head.''
Smith is certain Cassell will continue to be one of the best at what he does.
"I think next year he'll be going faster and by then he'll be maybe one of the top breaststrokers in the country,'' Smith said. "All he has to do is work at it and he is going to do that.''