Niagara Gazette — A rich volume of garnet populated Clarence High School’s pool Thursday. It will today, too.
The Section VI Boys Swimming and Diving Championships opened there Thursday with the diving events and swimming trials. The meet will conclude today with the swimming finals, and the field is littered with competitors from the Starpoint boys swimming team.
Of Starpoint’s 20 swimmers, 11 are competing at sectionals by virtue of qualifying throughout the season. It’s a fact that would provide credence to making the shade of deep red — Starpoint’s identifying hue — a secondary school color of Clarence’s for two days.
Given the recent trend of Starpoint’s program, having a pronounced presence at sectionals comes as no surprise. On Feb. 8 the Spartans captured their third consecutive Class B title at the Section VI Class Championships at Maryvale. It was the icing on an unblemished season, as Starpoint finished 10-0 (9-0 ECIC II).
“My first priority is always to swim for a team championship,” Spartans coach Tim Menges said. “It’s great to swim for a goal, for a team and to win a team championship, never mind winning it three years in a row.”
With Starpoint maintaining its high team standard as king of Class B, three seniors, three juniors and five sophomores now look to today as a gauge of how they stack up individually against Western New York’s best.
Thursday’s trials began with 24 athletes competing in each event and ended with the top 16 times advancing to today’s finals.
The meet also serves as the last chance to swim a state-qualifying time. Senior Alec Toth already punched his ticket to the state championships for the second straight year during the season, making the grade for the 200 and 500 free.
He is the Class B champion in both events, but will not compete in either during sectionals. There is a two-individual event limit and Toth instead chose to swim the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. Menges said Toth has a good chance to flex his versatility and become a sectional champ in the two races.
“He’s dedicated, he’s a coachable kid,” Menges said of Toth, the 2013 Section VI 200 free champion. “He’s willing to listen to you because he knows you know what it takes to get him to the level where he needs to be. The best thing that you can say about him is he’s reliable.”
Also claiming a class title last weekend was Brandon Smith (100 fly). Menges believes the sophomore, who entered sectionals seeded second in the same race, has the ability to achieve a time that qualifies him for states.
Rounding out the Class B titles for Starpoint was its 400 free relay team of Toth, seniors Rob Luckman and Ben Chatley and sophomore Andrew Luckman. They will compete for a Section VI title in the event.
Rob Luckman will contend for a sectional championship in the 100 free and 100 breaststroke while Chatley enters the 200 and 500 free field. Menges noted how beneficial it is having a trio of seniors so seasoned with past championships.
“That’s a lot of years of experience you’re bringing to a very competitive meet,” Menges said. “They know the competition level that’s out there, they know what they need to do and that brings great experience to the other eight guys as well.”
Menges is guiding the Spartans for the final time at the meet. He is retiring after serving as Starpoint’s coach for the last 15 years.
It’s a fitting way to go out. Sending 11 athletes to the championships is the most ever for Menges, leaving the program seemingly at its summit.
“I wanted to have great success and go out on top,” said Menges, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Starpoint. “I’ve been able to do that, but the kids have been able to deliver for me. They’ve always worked hard for me and it’s really nice to go out with this group of kids.”
Juniors Jason Crue (200 free) and Drew Howard (100 free) and sophomores Corey Poole (200 individual medley), Alex Stead (500 free) and Andrew Luckman (200 free, 100 back) are also slated to compete in individual events.
Starpoint’s other two relay teams at the meet are Chatley, Howard, junior Anthony Zanatian and sophomore Jake Smyth in the 200 free relay and Toth, Rob Luckman, Smith and Howard, who team up for the 200 medley relay.
Follow contributing reporter Aaron Garland on Twitter @AA_Garland.