The boys swimming season just past, the first winning one in the East Hampton High School program’s three years under Jeff Thompson, began with a bang — an opening day turnout that doubled that of the previous year — and ended with one — three career-best and four season-best performances in the county meet — the intense, quiet-spoken coach said this week.
All 24 of his charges, most of them underclassmen from East Hampton, Pierson, and Bridgehampton, had improved this winter, Thompson said. While the team was largely led to its 3-2 league record by two versatile sophomores, Thomas Brierley and Trevor Mott, a number of others came to mind when the coach was asked to list some pleasant surprises.
Among them were Rob Rewinski, a Bridgehampton freshman, who arrived as a novice and wound up with a top-10 county finish as a member of the 400-yard freestyle relay team and a top-20 finish in the 100 freestyle; Kyle Sturmann, a Pierson sophomore, who was one of those who swam the 100 butterfly, “the most complex and difficult stroke”; Robert Anderson III, an East Hampton freshman and county meet competitor who “came on strong,” as did two other freshmen, Tyler Menold and Shane McCann, alternates at the county meet; Jeremy Pepper, who “broke 2:10 in the 200,” and Andrew Winthrop, an East Hampton junior who “shattered 5:40 in the 500, which was for him the pink elephant in the room.”
Moreover, said Thompson, Chris Kalbacher, an East Hampton freshman, Thomas Paradiso, an East Hampton eighth grader, Ryan Lewis, of East Hampton, one of five seniors on the team, and Baxter Parcher, a Pierson sophomore, had “held their own” in the 100 breaststroke, an event from which Mott had been pulled at the beginning of the season so that he could do other things.
Speaking of Mott, Thompson, who previously co-coached championship teams in Livonia, N.Y., smiled and said, “He’s the bulldog of the team. He’s so competitive. He’s been our distance guy, but he won’t concede a thing in any race he’s in. If I told Trevor it needed to be done, it was done. He’s matured a lot this year. In terms of performance, he and Thomas are our leaders.”
Brierley, who missed qualifying for the state meet in the 100 backstroke — a stroke he hadn’t focused on — by one second, was another extremely versatile competitor, often following up the 500 with the 200 relay, the 100 back, the 100 breast, and the 400 relay.
Brierley’s 56.74 in the county’s 100-yard backstroke, good for fifth place, and his 51.38 in the 100 free, good for eighth, were “lifetime bests,” said Thompson, as was the 54.73 that Rewinski, who was 19th, swam in the 100 back.
Season bests at the county meet were turned in by the ninth-place 400 relay team of Rewinski, Anderson, Mott, and Brierley; the 10th-place 200 freestyle relay team of Dan Hartner, Paul Dorego, Brierley, and Mott, and the 16th-place 200 medley relay team of Hartner, Kalbacher, Adam Heller, and Peter Skerys.
The Bonackers finished 15th among the 23 schools that were scored, and, absent the diving (East Hampton does not compete in diving) would have been 14th.
“Most of them swam well, though some were a bit jumpy,” Thompson said of his nine county qualifiers. Afterward, he suggested to Section XI, the governing body of public high school sports in Suffolk, that it adopt the two-day format from which the top 12 move on to contest final-day championship and consolation heats that is used by Section V and VI schools and at the Olympics. Two-day meets’ lower qualifying standards would enable more young swimmers to get their feet wet, as it were, and would, because of the reduced pressure, “promote faster swimming.”
Though Thompson will lose five seniors — Hartner, Dorego, Skerys, Pepper, and Lewis — “for the first time I won’t have to worry next year about filling holes. At the end of the season, I could have put four or five guys in most events. They were all chomping at the bit.”
While Skerys, Winthrop, and Brierley had been the captains, “everyone on the team is a leader,” he said. “It’s our job as coaches to teach them how to push their boundaries and help them build their characters.”
He had worried at first about how everyone from the three schools [Boys swimming seems to be the strongest combined sport there is here] would get along. The interaction, said Thompson, was “cool to watch. . . . The kids are doing the recruiting. It’s what every coach hopes to have.”
He wanted to say something too, the coach said, about his assistant, Craig Brierley, Thomas’s father. “We actually were co-coaches . . . I couldn’t imagine one person coaching this team. There were two heads on the same dragon on the same pool deck. And on those days when I couldn’t get to practice right on time, he had the workouts ready. At the end, we were finishing each other’s sentences.”
Thirty had showed up on the first day, though six withdrew soon after. “I’ve been coaching 15 years and I’ve never cut — I don’t believe in cutting,” said Thompson. “If you’re working, there’s a place for you. I like to celebrate the victories of the slowest guys [and, indeed, in swimming the last-place finishers in the 500 are applauded by all]. That’s how you build. Our sport is not fun. But it gets in you, and it’s always there. As much as they bemoan it, the day after the season is over they miss it.”
Having helped coach a perennial top-10 state team, was his goal here the same? “Goals are incremental. Every year it’s different. You want to set a goal that’s just out of reach. Next year, our goal will be to win a league championship and to send as many swimmers to the states as we can. Is a league championship possible? I don’t know. We’ll see who comes back. It’s certainly a long-term goal.”
And now that the best season thus far is over? “The kids are ready for the lifeguard test. They now have a talent they can put to good use. They’re responsible for their work and their performance, qualities that make for great lifeguards.”
And what would he do?
“Me. . . ? I’m having a baby,” the coach said with a smile. His wife, Jessie, is “due any day now.”