Barnegat Boys Swim Team Snatches School’s First-Ever State Sectional Championship

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 14, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy The Barnegat High School boys swim team celebrates with the championship trophy after defeating Cedar Creek, 106-64, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group C final on Feb. 14.

For 14½ years, Barnegat High School’s athletic trophy case has been void of one particular piece of hardware. When the boys swim team arrived to the school parking lot and stepped off the bus just around 9 p.m., the Bengals brought that piece of hardware with them.

Finally, for the first time in school history on Feb. 14, a Bengals’ squad captured an NJSIAA state sectional championship.

“This is insane,” said Dylan Cappuccio, after he and his teammates scored a 106-64 rout of Cedar Creek in the South Jersey Group C final at Gloucester County Institute of Technology. “We knew as the score kept going up that we were getting closer to winning the title. And we’re trying to be humble about it, not start screaming and all that, because we know what it’s like to be on the other side of a loss in this meet.

“We were here last year and lost, so we get it. But this is a big accomplishment to get here again and win it. It’s super exciting.”

Years ago when he first signed up to be a part of the swim team, Kyle Smith never thought he’d have the chance to hold the school’s first sectional championship trophy.

“No way. I never would have guessed this would happen,” said Smith, who helped clinch the title with his first-place time of :59.50 in the 100-yard backstroke. “We came in today really confident that we could do it. We really believed this was the day. We had been here before and knew what it took to get it done.”

The Bengals (11-1) only won six of the 11 events, but, as they’ve showcased all season, their depth was the catalyst for the biggest victory in school history.

After Smith, Dylan Cappuccio, Gareth Aguilar and Kaden Jason won the 200-yard medley relay in 1:47.62 and teammates Tyler Grant, Joe Coleman, Jordan Burton and Declan Lustenberger took second, the top-seeded Bengals immediately looked as if they had grabbed control.

However, Cedar Creek (8-1) scored double-digit points in the 200-yard freestyle and Barnegat’s lead was cut to two points, 16-14. That’s when the Bengals got serious.

Dylan Cappuccio won the 200-yard individual medley in a school-record 2:02.96, while Coleman and Grant swiped second and fourth, before Michael Koser delivered a first-place time of 23.59 seconds to lead a top-three sweep along with Jason and Josh Hutton, surging the Bengals to an 18-point lead, 40-22. In the 100-yard butterfly, Smith mustered another school record, cruising to first in :55.76, and brought Aguilar and Burton as the Bengals also swiped second- and fourth-place points.

At that point, the Pirates’ air was sucked away from their sails, and a second-third-fourth effort by Koser, Jason and Hutton added to their woes as the Bengals pushed the gap to 29 points, 61-33.

Only a colossal collapse would have prevented Barnegat from accomplishing the goal it had set for itself since it was routed in the sectional final by Oakcrest.

“Even though we had that little drop-off in the 200 free, I wasn’t really concerned,” Smith said. “We were ready to swim our best today, and once we were deeper into the meet we knew it was ours to lose. But we weren’t going to let that happen – not this time.”

After the team of Coleman, Sackett, Koser and Jason snagged second in the 200-yard freestyle relay, all the Bengals had to do was gather another 10 points during the next three events. Smith got six of them with his win in the backstroke, while Aguilar took third and Grant grabbed fourth to secure the title.

Dylan Cappuccio, winning in 1:09.06, Coleman and Gavin Wheeler swept the 100-yard breaststroke to make it a 100-56 lead. Hutton, Austin Cappuccio, Aguilar and Smith took second in the 400-yard freestyle relay, followed by Alex Kinder, Andrew Ohr, Sackett and Koser in third to cap the scoring.

“We knew this would be a great year for us,” Dylan Cappuccio said. “And we knew coming into today’s meet that we had a great shot to win this title. We were confident but not arrogant. We weren’t cocky and we swam our hardest. We had to execute in the pool and not hold back, and the section title is the result. It’s so awesome.”

The Bengals registered not only two school records but an additional 26 personal-best times. They will swim against Central Group C champion Haddonfield in the state semifinals on Tuesday.

“This is huge, and I’m so excited for these guys,” said coach Emily Cherry, who alongside coach Rebecca Kane now become legends for being the first coaching tandem to lead a Barnegat athletic program to a section crown. “These guys have worked so hard this season, and to be the first team to win a section title is just amazing.”

Of course, despite the success of her program during the past five years, Cherry doesn’t take the credit for any of it, and that includes winning a championship.

“Rebecca and I, together, do what we have to do to help them,” she said. “But it still comes down to them. If they didn’t want this title, they wouldn’t have been here swimming for it. They did this. They’re the ones who have to swim the events. I’m just so stinking proud of this team.”

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