With the Freestate Trophy Meet just two weeks away, the Stoneleigh Sharks are hoping to get the program's dynasty back on track.
The Sharks finished second in the league to the York Manor Makos last year after eight straight championships.
Even though Stoneleigh is considered a top contender, the Sharks face some fierce competition that has coach Tom Till a little worried about his team's prospects for winning another crown.
"We would love to take the title back, but quite honestly, there are three teams out there that we are going to have some real battles with," said Till, who serves as co-coach with Brian Loeffler. "If you look at York Manor, Campus Cabana and Hampton, they are really going to push the level of competition up a notch and really we are going to have to step up to order to win.
"If Stoneleigh were to come in and just roll over everybody every year, that wouldn't be fun," he added. "We want to have the tough competition and be challenged."
Campus Cabana seems to be the latest team that has caught Till's eye.
"They are hungry and they have been close to us the last three years now," Till said. "They have a significant chance (at a title) if everything is working in their favor. In years past, there have been several races that have gone our way and they could go the other way easily."
Outstanding depth has served the Sharks well during their championship years and appears to be a factor again this summer with a whopping 264 swimmers — just two fewer than last year — in the fold.
"As a coach, you try not to be daunted with by the overwhelming task you have in front of you with the large number of swimmers," Till said. "You also realize you are not going to have them there all at the same time because kids go on vacations. The mentality of summer swimming is that you're not always going to have the entire team together at one time."
Till loves the talent on his roster and 15-18 swimmer Olivia Glass (50-yard butterfly, 100 individual medley, 100 freestyle) in particular has impressed the coach.
"Olivia is one of our most consistent swimmers in practices and meets," Till said. "
Stoneleigh also features brothers Sam and Tim Loeffler (100 free, 50 fly) and Jonas Byars (100 free, 50 breast), Lacy Bollinger (100 IM, 50 fly), Chris Pilotte (100 free, 50 fly, 50 breast, 50 back), Maia Faraone (100 free, 50 back) and Emme Toombs (50 breast, 50 back) in the 15-18 age group.
Patrick Galvez (50 breast, 100 free) highlights the 13-14 age group.
"He is one of our up-and-comers who will be moving into that (15-18) age group," Till said.
Brian Loeffler, the head coach at Loyola University Maryland, said the Sharks will be very eager to face York Manor in the Freestate Trophy Meet July 23.
"When we tasted defeat last year, it has fueled us to get the championship back and finish on top," he explained.
Over at York Manor, long-time coach Margie Bowers said the dedication from a large group of swimmers has made the Makos contenders for the Freestate Trophy meet title for years to come.
"There has been a big change in the dedication of the kids," said Bowers, who has been a York Manor head coach and assistant for 16 years. "A lot of the kids are swimming year-round and have improved. More kids are coming to practices every day. We have hungry swimmers."
Sam Garthwright (100 free, 50 breast, 50 back), Nick Triantafilou (100
IM, 50 fly, 50 back) and Shea Boecher (50 back, 100 free, 100 IM) rank among York ManorÕs best 15-18 swimmers.
Boecher broke a York Manor pool record in the 50 back (30:10) on July 6.
"She is very determined," Bowers said. "She sets goals and achieves them."
Drew Kinsey (50 fly, 100 free, 100 IM), Matt Jahries (50 back, 50 fly, 100 IM, 50 free), Grace Stubblefield (100 free, 50 breast, 50 fly), Sabrina Zieger (100 IM, 100 free) and Patrice Gapiz (50 back) are York Manor's strongest swimmers in the 13-14 age group.
Bella Nicolas (7-8, 25 free, 25 back, 25 free, 25 fly) and siblings Madison and Dominic Feracci (9-10, 25 fly, 100 IM) highlight the program's younger age groups.