Thanks to a pair of weather cancellations, the Bishop Hendricken swim team didn’t open its dual-meet season until Tuesday night, three full weeks after it was supposed to begin.
If all goes as planned, the season will be worth the wait.
The Hawks have a strong senior class and several young standouts in the fold as they chase their 25th consecutive state championship. The uneven start to the season – with holiday breaks tacked onto the postponements – has kept the Hawks from hitting their stride, but when February rolls around, they hope to be at the top again.
“It’s been crazy with the weather and the holidays,” said head coach Dave Hanson. “But the kids are working hard. We’re going to be in the mix.”
The Hawks started the season with a hard-fought 52-42 win over Smithfield, who finished second at last year’s state meet. It was a good challenge for the Hawks, who used a season-opening defeat last year as motivation for title No. 24.
“We beat them by a nose,” Hanson said. “It was a dogfight.”
The Sentinels are one of several teams hoping to dethrone the Hawks, who are already getting a taste of what they’re up against. As dominant as they’ve been in their quarter-century run, they know it’s never easy.
“Everybody’s got something,” Hanson said. “Smithfield’s got some great individuals in the stroke events. North Kingstown has their best swimmer back. Cumberland’s got a couple of very good swimmers. Same with Barrington. It’s just a matter of how it all shakes out at states.”
While those challengers have their strong points, the Hawks once again have plenty of their own. Seniors Dan Fedorenko, Jacob Fox, James Manni, Jon O’Connell and Mike Sundberg return to lead the way after helping carry the load in last year’s title run.
“We have a good group of seniors, and like I always say, they’ll take us as far as we can go,” Hanson said. “We’ve got a couple of good sophomores, an outstanding freshmen and some other freshmen who can contribute, but it starts with the seniors.”
The top swimmers in the senior class have all chipped in on the big stage. Sundberg is the team’s top returning performer from the state meet. He took third in the 200 free and 500 free and swam on Hendricken’s first-place winning 400 freestyle relay team.
Manni swam on two first-place relays and added seventh in the 100 free and eighth in the 200 free. O’Connell took eighth in the 100 breast and 10th in the 200 I.M., in addition to a spot on a fourth-place 200 medley relay squad. Fedorenko finished 13th in the 50 free, while Fox took 12th in the 500 free and 16th in the 100 breast.
“It’s a good group,” Hanson said. “I know they don’t want to be the ones who see the streak end.”
Sophomores Marc Andrews and Brendan Crowe are also back after making a splash last year. Andrews had top-10 finishes in the 200 I.M. and 100 back, and he also swam on the fourth-place medley relay and the first place 400 free relay. Crowe swam the 200 free at states and finished 12th.
“Marc Andrews was a big part of the team last year and Brendan Crowe is doing a real nice job,” Hanson said. “He’s a kid who has really stepped up.”
Newcomers will also have their say, and one in particular will come through loud and clear. Freshman Max Miranda is an experienced and accomplished club swimmer who brings serious credentials to the Hendricken squad. His personal best 200 I.M. time from the club ranks of 1 minute, 53 seconds would break a 30-year-old Hendricken school record – by a full five seconds.
“He potentially could be the best swimmer Hendricken has ever had,” Hanson said. “Just looking at his times, he’s very talented and he’s very versatile. We can use him wherever we need him.”
Miranda raced the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly in Tuesday’s meet and won both. He also swam on the winning 200 free and 400 free relay teams.
Another freshman, John Beretta, is in the mix as well. He grabbed a crucial second-place finish in the 100 breaststroke on Tuesday, which helped the Hawks hold off Smithfield. Beretta could push his way into relay events, as well.
In addition to the swimmers who have emerged as top performers so far, the Hawks have depth, with 30 swimmers on the roster.
“We’ve got a lot of guys knocking at the door and working hard,” Hanson said.
The hard work will have to continue, with a busy month on tap. The Hawks have five more dual meets in January, plus several invitational events.
The goal is to be as strong as possible when the state meet rolls around.
“I think our biggest focus right now is just trying to improve,” Hanson said. “Just getting better. We’ll keep working hard and then it’s fine-tuning.”
The Hawks’ next dual meet is Friday at 4 p.m. against Cumberland at McDermott Pool.