As nearly everything around us has changed in the past year, some remain the same for the Half Hollow Hills boys swimming team.
The Thundercolts, winners of the last 14 Suffolk County titles with only one dual meet loss in that span, rely on team bonding and preswim rituals to motivate one another. But thanks to social distancing, they can’t all physically hype each other like they normally would. Instead, just the mere fact of competing and encouraging one another is leading to their best swims.
"Even though we are far and on opposite sides of the pool from each other during practice, just being in the presence of each other and seeing each other place first in an event [is exciting]," Hills' Ben Glazebnik said. "Or before a race, talking about it, motivating each other to go as fast as possible, I think [the bond] is kind of stronger now because we don’t really have those rituals and it kind of makes up for all the weirdness and things that we lost."
And another aspect remains the same — winning. Host Half Hollow Hills defeated Ward Melville, 105-67, in Suffolk League I action Tuesday afternoon. The Thundercolts won 11 of 12 events.
"To get something kind of normal going on is pretty good for all of us," Hills' Kevin Wu said. "And it helps with the situation we’re in."
Hills had four swimmers win two individual events. Glazebnik won the 50-meter freestyle and 100 freestyle in 24.16 seconds and 53.53 seconds, respectively. Wu won the 200 individual medley (2:18.23) and 100 breaststroke (1:13.17). Matthew Szypula won the 400 freestyle (4:11.15) and 100 backstroke (1:01.58). Ryan Hwang won the 200 freestyle (2:04.28) and 100 butterfly (1:02.12). Hills’ Josh Sundararaman won the diving with a score of 225.15.
"We’re always pushing each other hard," Szypula said. "Most of us have that bond from several years being here, so we really are a team and are always cheering when someone’s in the water. We always make sure to provide positive energy for the person in the water."
Ward Melville won the 400 freestyle relay in 3:55.77, anchored by Vincent Vinciguerra, who also placed second in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle.
Hills coach Kevin Mongan said he’s relied heavily on his captains to set the tone during this unique season and thinks the deep lineup can keep the county championship streak going.
"We are all disappointed states are cancelled this year, but now we shift our focus to counties," Szypula said. "Now we hope to be as successful as we would at states at counties and show the county how good we are."
There are no winter state championships because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the shortened season, the swimmers are taking every opportunity to show off their talents — and deliver another county crown.
"I’m kind of looking at [counties] as a replacement for states," Glazebnik said. "So I’m definitely more serious about it earlier on, especially because the season is shorter."