The boys on the East Hampton swim team were crushed after being told they finished just shy of their third straight League II championship. But after a 50-yard freestyle scoring error was revealed, that feeling of defeat quickly turned to jubilation Saturday, February 13, as the Bonackers, who ended up ahead by three points, grasped the fact that they’d kept their historic tradition and streak alive.
“Being league champs this year feels more special than any other year because of all the challenges we had to face due to COVID-19,” said East Hampton senior Owen McCormac, who’d won that freestyle event by touching the wall in a personal-best 22.41 seconds, boosting his team 16 points. “Keeping the streak going was a major goal this year, but we did have a rough season in our dual meets where we had a lot of guys out. Still, I’m very proud of everyone. They all did such a great job and all the hard work paid off in the end.”
The Bonackers, at 3-4 after wins in a tri-meet over Deer Park and North Babylon last Monday, February 8, were not the favorites coming into the February 13 meet at Hauppauge High School. As part of rules surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic, the meet was split into two sessions, and because of its record, the East Hampton team, also made up of swimmers from Sag Harbor and Montauk, was placed in the first session — at fifth in the overall standings – with other lower-scoring teams. Although taking the top spot in most events in their round, the Bonackers were left to wait and watch top-seeded teams like rival Hauppauge battle it out.
“It was difficult to count up the score as the second session unfolded,” East Hampton senior Colin Harrison said. “It felt strange. I couldn’t imagine anyone in the league taking down our top swimmers, even Hauppauge, and even with diving.”
“Because of our record nobody thought we were going to come into leagues as a threat,” McCormac added. “And while we were still low on numbers compared to other teams, so we were missing our depth, a lot of the boys knew they had to pull out amazing times, which they did.”
Those times, including McCormac’s first time finishing at the top spot in an individual event, kept the team ahead for most of the meet. Even up against the usual challenge of competing without any divers. Prior to that event, the Bonackers were already ahead, 113-90, with the second-place finishing (1:44.20) 200 medley relay of McCormac, Harrison and fellow seniors Joey Badilla and Jack Duryea; Pierson senior Fernando Menjura finishing third in the 200 freestyle with a personal-best time of 1:56.59; and Joey Badilla third in the 200 individual medley in 2:09.04, followed close behind by his younger brother Nicky, who finished fourth with a personal-best time of 2:10.68, shaving off two seconds. East Hampton also had multiple placers in the 50 free, taking three of the top four spots to score 39 points in that event alone. Duryea placed third in a personal-best 22.98 and Harrison fourth in 23.38.
“We definitely struggled throughout the season, so I can say the team was proud and excited to win,” said Duryea, who had to sit out several meets due to East Hampton COVID-19 quarantine protocols and injuring his knee. “It felt great to represent our school and our community.”
Hauppauge took third place — 12 points — in the diving section to keep the Bonackers out front 113-102.
“Our approach to this meet was no different than any other meet: the boys are asked to control what they can control — effort, attitude and preparation — and to give their absolute best,” head coach Craig Brierley said. “That was reflected as each event came and went with Bonac managing to hold the lead until the 11th event.”
With a first-place finish in the 100 breaststroke, Hauppauge took the lead, 236-231. East Hampton did not have any swimmers place for points in the event.
That left the meet up for grabs going into the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, that Duryea, Menjura and the Badilla brothers won with a time of 3:28.90 for 32 points and a 263-260 win over Hauppauge.
“It was extremely exciting to find out we won, especially after a re-score that put us ahead by just three points,” said Duryea, who swam personal bests in the 50 freestyle and his legs of the 200 and 400 free relays. “But it was the hardest because we lost a lot of swimmers that were contributors on the team last year.”
Proving each new team is as strong and independently successful has become a common theme for the Bonackers.
“Every year we try to prove that we are just as good as the seniors that left the year before,” McCormac said. “We don’t want to be reliant on a swimmer to win meets for us.”
For him, it was special to be able to not only take first in the 50 free to help secure the win, but to reap individual success like his older brother Ethan had, and do it alongside his younger brothers Aidan and Emmet.
“Winning that event and giving us just enough points to win felt amazing,” McCormac said. “Craig has really helped me with my training and speed and to be a senior and finally win an individual event at leagues is amazing and especially in the final moments where we needed a win.”
Aidan McCormac placed sixth in the 100 free with a time of 54.09 and sixth in the 100 backstroke in a personal-best 1:02.86.
“Aidan played a really important role this year, and really brought a lot of points for our team,” Owen said. “Swimming with Aidan in the 100 free at leagues was amazing, especially because afterward he told me that I pushed him for a best time.”
While unable to compete because he will be away on a college visit, Owen’s younger brother Aiden, the Badilla brothers, Duryea, Harrison and Menjura will be representing their team at the Suffolk County championships Saturday or Sunday at Stony Brook University. Details of the meet are still being hammered out.
“The end of every season comes with many emotions and this season was especially appreciated as we were fortunate we were able to have a season at all,’” Brierley said. “Even though it was a shortened season, the athletes still got to experience many lessons that are always a part of the process. We are looking forward to seeing these boys continue on the successes they have been building on this season as they represent their respective school communities with pride.”