ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. – After watching his Rebels compete for two days in the pool at the Section 1 swimming championships, Lakeland/Panas coach Patrick Connelly has reason for optimism that the program is heading in the right direction.

Lakeland/Panas finished 14th overall out of 21 teams as the Rebels earned 59.5 points in the two-day competition at the Felix Festa Middle School pool in Rockland County. Robert Hutton placed sixth in the 50-yard freestyle and Matt Keane placed seventh in the 100-yard breaststroke to lead the way, and both of them will be back next year along with several other returning underclassmen.

“I was impressed with their performance and definitely happy with their times,” Connolly said. “Truth is in the past we were just happy to be here, but this time we competed and made some noise. We have a lot of talented swimmers returning, a lot of juniors, so next year will be a big push for them to improve and the motivation is certainly there.”

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Hutton is one of those talented juniors. His sixth-place finish with a time of 23.16 in the 50-yard freestyle race was the best at the meet for the Rebels. He also placed 13th in the 100-yard freestyle, and he anchored two relay races that placed 11th and 15th for the Rebels.

Keane is only a sophomore and he qualified for the New York State meet as he placed seventh in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:01.65. He also finished 16th in the 200-yard Individual Medley with a time of 2:06.06, and he competed in two relays for the Rebels.

“R.J. has been on the team since seventh grade and he is a strong leader for us,” Connelly said of Hutton. “He was disappointed, but he had a great meet. He’s right on the doorstep. Matt Keane qualified for states in the breaststroke. He kind of came out of nowhere, but we knew the ability was there and he has a bright future.”

In addition to Hutton and Keane placing in their individual events, the Rebels placed in all three of the relay events. The Rebels started off the meet with a 10th-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay as Ryan Nikolic, Matt Keane, Evan Nikolic and Matthew Gallinger teamed up to finish with a time of 1:47.05.

In the 200-freestyle relay, Keane, Evan Attinger, Steve Eckenberg and Hutton teamed up for an 11th place finish.

Eckenberg was the only senior in that group as the rest of them will return next season and the future looks bright for the Rebels.

“We have a lot of mothers who were very supportive, there were a lot of positives, a good learning experience, and the team and program are going in the right direction,” Connelly said. “Eckenberg was definitely a leader and always organized us. He set the tone and he’ll be missed. Talking with coach Michael Meadows, we realize we have choices next year where to put the pieces. We have the talent to work with, a nice core group of guys who all swim together on a club team. They will be working hard this offseason and next year they could make some noise and be a force.”