SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The South Plainfield High School Swim Team's season came to a close on Jan. 31.  The final weeks were filled with excitement with Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) swimming championships and numerous meets.  The South Plainfield Elks Lodge hosted the team's traditional pasta night on Jan. 23, the night before the championships.  GMCs were held on Jan. 24, for the boys, and Jan. 25 for the girls.  Many students broke their personal records this season as they pushed themselves beyond their own expectations.  

"This year, our team had many new swimmers that showed a tremendous amount of dedication and improvement," Coach Thomas Connelly said.  "The team achieved a lot of personal highs. As a young team, there is a lot of potential in the coming years."

"I feel that we really pulled through and improved as a team this year," said Mark Santiago, sophomore.  "Not only did we accomplish feats where many of us broke our personal records, but I feel that even though we may not be the best, we still had a really good standing at GMCs this year." 

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Sophomore swimmer Katie Ziga set the all-time South Plainfield High School record for the 200 Yard Individual Medley this season coming in 4th place with a time of 2:02.05.  Ziga also came in 2nd place in the 100 Yard Freestyle with a time of 55.39. 

"Katie Ziga has grown a lot since her rookie year and earned two medals at the GMC Championship Meet including a silver and a bronze," Connelly said. "Our senior veterans Annmarie Aquino, Jorge Durango, Dominic Faustini, Halyna Ho, Thomson Nguyen and Max Strassburger provided excellent leadership.  The top two point scorers were seniors Max Strassburger (105.25) and sophomore Katie Ziga (179)." 

"It's been a journey,"  Strassburger said.  "We've had a solid team this year.  Things are looking up.  The season's been really good.  We have a lot of strong individual swimmers."

Many seniors expressed sentiments of mixed emotions.

"You get to reflect a lot as a senior," said Swim Team Captain Dominic Faustini.  "It was my last chance to go out with the team one more time.  I swam all four years of high school.  I was named captain this year so it's been exciting." 

"It was a good season," said Jorge Wilson Durango Espin, senior.  "I'm sad because I'm a senior and this was my last time doing high school swim, but I'm so grateful for the coaches and all the teammates that I have here.  We have a pretty cool team."

"This season was fun," said Jake Kolodziej, senior.  "Even though I may not have been able to swim this season, being an assistant coach and helping all the newcomers overcome their weaknesses and become really great swimmers.  To see their time just go down and down and down, every single time is the most satisfying thing ever."

"I knew that going into this, I wasn't expecting to get consecutive wins, but I like seeing how everyone has been improving and how everyone is enthusiastic about swimming," said Annmarie Aquino, senior.  "Going into senior year, I was scared about the seniors graduating and having to fill their places.  I wondered if it would be the same, but it worked out and there are a lot of new bonds.  We're all close, which is really nice."  

The Elks Lodge hosted the students' traditional pasta night the evening before the championships.  The seniors on the team helped provide the meal, and the Elks provided the facility.

"This is exactly what the benevolent and protective order of Elks does,"  Exalted Ruler Christine Sauer said.  "We're part of a community, and we try to support our youths as much as we can in any small way."

"I am very appreciative to the Elks for hosting this event," said Christine Faustini.  "In addition, it was scheduled last minute, and they were very gracious about it." 

"We do pasta night every year before Championships," said Kristina Shaw, junior.  "This team has grown a lot and I think we were well-prepared for championships."  

"Usually we have pasta night every year,"  said Annmarie Aquino, senior.  "I'm very grateful that this happens because without this happening we probably would be lost because the seniors were expected to organize it by themselves, so I'm really grateful that the parents help us out."

"It was exciting to see everyone come together for the tradition of pasta night and for the GMCs," Dominic Faustini said.  "It's awesome that the Elks let us do this.  We gave our hearts this season.  Go Tigers!"

The swimmers loaded up on carbs to prepare for the weekend of rigorous swimming.  The spread of Italian foods was laid out buffet style and the swimmers enjoyed an evening with good friends.

"Pasta night is a tradition that we do right before GMCs," said Kolodziej.  "It's been going on since before I came to the high school and it's honestly the best thing ever because all you hear is laughter and talk with everybody.  It's always so much fun.  Everyone socializes and are an actual team, which I love about this."

The Elks open their doors and hearts for the numerous organizations, community members in need, veterans and the children and young adults in South Plainfield.  They work to support in any way possible.

"This is close to my own heart because my son was an awesome swimmer," Sauer said.  "He tried out for the pre-Olympics, so I know how good it is and how much it teaches kids to buckle down, pay attention, keep up good grades and be very active in a sport.  So not only do we give them space, but we also give them an opportunity to inexpensively celebrate their accomplishments."

"The Elks Lodge is a place that always hosts school activities and it's always nice to have a place to come and have fun with your friends and teammates," said Wilson Durango Espin.  It's great to be stress free for a while because competitions and practices can consume you.  You need a little bit of mental rest so you can do your best.  I think it's pretty nice of the Elks to host this."  

Several parents attended pasta night as it kicked off a weekend of championship meets.  Many parents of seniors have been cheering their children on for four years and the evening came with a little sadness, but a lot of admiration for their child's accomplishments.

"This is my son Dominic's fourth year on the swim team and it's been a wonderful experience for him," Faustini said.  "They learn a lot of self-discipline.  Swimming is a sport where you can win as a team and you can win personally by setting your own personal records.  So it's really been a lot of growth for him, and he's made some really wonderful friendships here.  I'm happy that he finished high school on the swim team and with everything he's taken away from the experience." 

"I love that it's healthy competition," said Janice Strassburger.  "Nobody gets out of the pool until everyone is done.  Everyone cheers for everybody.  It's a awesome experience for the kids.  My son has been swimming since he was seven years old and it's a great group of kids.  It's a great sport and I'm going to miss it next year."

"My son definitely enjoys being around his friends, making bonds, and the camaraderie with the other kids," said Eileen Carey.  "It's been nice to see him form those relationships."

With Elyse Phillips as the team's first year assistant swim coach, the team had a season of new experiences and tremendous accomplishments as they enhanced their skills as athletes.  Their record was 3-8 and the students said they pushed themselves to improve their personal records.  Many said they loved the experience. 

"This was my first year doing swim and it was a really good season," said Jolene Faulk, freshman.  "I only started getting into going to meets later in the season.  After that I started to get more confident in what I was doing.  I have a lot to improve, but I'm better than when I started."

"We may have lost a lot of the great swimmers we had last year and the year before, but we have a lot of great swimmers that have been working very hard,"  said Kolodziej.  "The newcomers came and just wrecked the competition.  It's been so great!"

"I love swim so much, just the team and the environment and everyone there," said Amy Swartz, sophomore.  "It makes it really enjoyable and we all love what we do here.  We're always there for each other, which is really good.  We always motivate each other while we're swimming and it's a really good environment to be in."

"The season has been really fun," said Olivia Payne, freshman.  "I'm doing timing and everyone's really nice.  It's been a great experience." 

On Jan. 24 and Jan. 25, the students participated in the GMCs, which are athletic conferences comprised of 34 schools, both public and private throughout Middlesex County.  The conferences offer an opportunity for students to participate in numerous sports in championship competitions over the course of the school year. 

"I love going to the GMC," said Amy Swartz, sophomore.  "It was my favorite part of the season.  It always comes as the season's ending, but it's a happy close to the season, even though I'm going to miss swim in the off season."

"This team is basically like a family and it helped me come out of my shell since my freshman year," said Kolodziej.  "I was a very shy kid until I joined the swim team."

"They're a great group of kids," said Janice Strassburger.  "It's an awesome sport.  They have an awards ceremony in March and the coach makes them a big book with their stats with what their times were.  It's really nice."

The SPHS swim team roster included: Sadid Aguilar, Annmarie Aquino,Isaac Atehortua, Colin Carey, Emily Cortes, Jorge Durango, Jolene Faulk, Dominic Faustini, Rafael Ferreira, Olivia Glynn, Halyna Ho, Jake Kolodziej, Logan LaCross, Maia Lane, Laryssa Mallqui, Camilla Martinez, Alyssa Moffit, Emily Mundy, Thomson Nguyen, Timson Nguyen, Nicole O'Sullivan, Mark Santiago, Kristina Shaw, Max Strassburger, Amy Swartz, Kathy Tran, Bianca Valdeiglesias, Nelson Whalen, Henry You, and Katie Ziga. 

As the season came to a close on Jan. 31 with the final swim meet, seniors were honored and given the traditional big cookie.  Coaches were thrown in the pool as is also the tradition.  And everyone left with the sense of accomplishment, comradery, and memories that will last a lifetime.

"The team exceeded expectations this year,"  Connelly said.  "We look forward to a new season and continued growth."