Crocker, Bilharz, youth, dominate at NFLs

JOHN D'ONOFRIO/STAFFAND THEY'RE OFF ...: 50 free finalists at the 2020 NFL Boys Swim Championships at Niagara Falls High School take off to start the race on Saturday morning. Lockport senior Mark Crocker (second from left) went on to win the race. Pictured from left are Lew-Port's Ben Wisto (third), Crocker, runner-up Colin Janis of Kenmore, Lockport's Carson Tatro (sixth) and Niagara-Wheatfield's Cole Scofield (seventh).

NIAGARA FALLS — There were the usual suspects to be sure, but there were also a sprinkling of surprises on Saturday morning at the 2020 Niagara Frontier League Boys Swimming & Diving Championships at Niagara Falls High School.

Lockport senior Mark Crocker, who will be making his third straight state meet appearance this year, was a double winner, placing first in his specialties, the 50-yard freestyle (:22.03) and the 100 butterfly (:53.82).

A strong start in the 50 keyed Crocker to his sprint victory. Kenmore's Colin Janis was second, followed by Lew-Port's Ben Wisto, Niagara Falls' Michael Brown and Niagara-Wheatfield's Ryan Wagoner to round out the top five.

“That's my fourth best time this year so far. l'll take the 22.03 for all the heavy training I've been doing for the last week and a half,” Crocker said. “This meet and the following meets aren't the goal, it's states. That's the final goal.”

The record-setting Crocker — who shattered two school and pool records and one NFL record at one single meet this year — went on to win the butterfly by a wide margin. He was followed by Grand Island's Victor Fritsch, Lew-Port's Ben Warren and GI's Chase Harding to round out the top four.

Crocker's double individual wins, plus the Lions' relay sweep, helped propel head coach John Sullivan's Lockport Lions to an first-place team finish with 354 points. Lewiston-Porter was second (187), followed by Niagara-Wheatfield (173), Grand Island (169), Kenmore (159), Niagara Falls (135), North Tonawanda (110).

The future of NFL Boys Swimming is in great hands with a number of up-and-coming superstars splashing to top finishes. Among them was Grand Island sophomore Felix Bilharz, who was the meet's only other double-individual winner on Saturday.

Bilharz said he surprised even himself with his wins in both the 200 freestyle (1:52.45) and 500 freestyle (5:04.23).

“My strategy was just go all out. I was dropping in, trying to hold up and get a good finish,” Bilharz said.

Did you expect that you would win today?

“No, not at all,” he said, adding, “it feels really good.”

Bilharz touched first in the 200 free, followed by Kenmore's Garcia, Lew-Port's Lucas Heffler and Lockport's Luke St. Amour to round out the top four finishers. In the 500 free, Lockport's outstanding ninth grader Aidan Morgan was the runner-up, less than a second out of first. 

Freshman Paul Wissel of Niagara-Wheatfield also swam to a first-place finish, touching first in the 200 individual medley in 2:06.40. His IM victory time was just 1.22 seconds faster than the race runner-up, his friend and rival, fellow freshman Morgan (2:07.62).

“When I race against fast kids like Aidan, I always try to be ahead of him at first,” Wissel said. “He's stronger than me in some things and I'm stronger than him in others, so my goal is usually just to beat him and see how fast I can go.”

Lew-Port's Justin Currie won the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.40. Currie was followed by N-W's Wissel, Lew-Port's Justin Pavan and Niagara Falls' Zachary Stevens to round out the top four.

Rounding out Saturday's first-place finishers at NFLs were Kenmore's Janis and North Tonawanda's Izack Shamrock-Han.

Janis won  the 100 freestyle in :50.47, followed by Lockport's Ramsey Ross, Lew-Port's Lucas Heffler and Lockport's Evan Bruning to round out the top four.

Shamrock-Han was first in the backstroke in :58.50, followed by Lockport's Kaufman, Niagara Falls' Noah Wisniewski and Grand Island's Alex Szczepankiewi to round out the top four.

Lockport senior Jake Minnick defended his NFL diving title with a big win, finishing with 537.70 points. Minnick was followed by Niagara Falls' Beck Nigro, Lions' teammate junior Andrew Moran, Lew-Port's Jack Bailey and Niagara-Wheatfield's Carter Scofield to round out the top five. 

Lockport's Kaufman, Crocker, Morgan and Colin Connolly won the meet's opening 200 medley relay in 1:43.50, Crocker, Bruning, Ross and Andrew Hildreth were first in the 200 free relay (1:33.16) and Bruning, Ross, Morgan and St. Amour won the 400 freestyle relay in 3:30.96.

Follow veteran Lockport sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.

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