CUMBERLAND â€” For 22 straight years, Bishop Hendricken has worn the crown and this season it doesnâ€™t seem like that will change.
La Salle Academy has dominated the girlsâ€™ side the past four years and an equally-strong squad has returned for the winter campaign.
It will be difficult once again to knock the two powerhouses from their perches at the state meet next month.
The restâ€¦itâ€™s anybodyâ€™s guess?
After a top-six finish from both her squads at the 2011 championship meet, Cumberland High coach Heidi Josephson expects the Clippers to post a challenge among the heavies in R.I. Her Lady Clippers finished fifth at the state level last year and return all-state junior Courtney Kent and several other talented teammates.
â€śI am really happy with where the girls are right now,â€ť Josephson said. â€śWe just finished an extended training session during the winter break and a lot of them are really fatigued and tired. But thatâ€™s where we should be. I think, all in all, they are swimming well.â€ť
The Cumberland girls are currently 1-0-2 in Division I with its two ties coming at the last two meets against quality opponents Narragansett and the Prout School. The Clippers are led by Kent, the defending state titlist in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events. In the 500, sheâ€™ll be gunning for his third consecutive crown, also winning the title as a freshman.
â€śCourtney has a good year every year,â€ť Josephson said. â€śI know she has individual goals and we want to top those when we get to the bigger meets. She is swimming very, very strong. She is a smart swimmer. So far, the competition in dual meets she looks like she has those events pretty much in hand.â€ť
Kent has been undefeated in her specialties, including victories in the events at the prestigious Bay View Invitational at the Totell Aquatic Center last Sunday.
â€śShe had good times there,â€ť Josephson said. â€śIn the 200, she went 1:55, which is a second off her best, and in the 500 there wasnâ€™t too much competition. I think she won by two laps.â€ť
Kent has potential to break a very impressive state record in the 500 freestyle, a 4:52.06 effort recorded by former North Kingstown standout and U.S. Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel.
Kentâ€™s best for the 500 is 4:54.
â€śI think she can do 4:52,â€ť Josephson said. â€śShe wants the record and I think she definitely can get that.â€ť
The Clipper coach, who took over for longtime Hall-of-Fame mentor Bruce Calvert last year, indicated it hasnâ€™t just been the Kent Show. Cumberland has been manufacturing some fine performances from several other swimmers.
Junior captain Kayla Zerva has been strong in her events, the 100 backstroke and 50 freestyle. She is one of the Clippersâ€™ key returnees.
â€śShe has won many of the races for us,â€ť Josephson said. â€śSheâ€™s also diverse and I can put her in the 100 freestyle or a longer distance or a different stroke and she can do quite well.â€ť
Junior co-captain Kate LaBeau is another versatile athlete for the Clippers.
â€śShe can do everything,â€ť Josephson said. â€ťI can put her in the 50, 200. I can put her in the 500.â€ť
Kenzi McCormick has been dominant in the butterfly and the 200 IM.
La Salle handily beat second-place Bay View for title No. 4 last year with a 378-265 victory. The Clippers accumulated 231 points for their finishing, meaning a mere 34 points separated the second through fifth positions.
Josephson believes it will be fairly similar this year.
â€śI think you still have La Salle,â€ť she said. â€śSo far, it looks like that in the dual meets. They have continued to sweep everybody. But there is more parity in the league this year, which is really nice to see because it makes for a more exciting meet and more exciting swimming. I think we can do very well. I would predict that we would improve from our team position of last yearâ€¦I think itâ€™s kind of an open field.â€ť
Junior Andrew Bauer, the defending state champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles, leads the Cumberland boys. The Clippers were sixth at last yearâ€™s state meet and currently are 2-1-0 in Division I this winter.
â€śI think they look much improved from last year,â€ť Josephson said. â€śAll the swimmers that have come back have really improved. We also have a growth of new swimmers this year, both on the boysâ€™ and girlsâ€™ side thatâ€™s about 10 to 15 deep.â€ť
Bauer, who like Kent swims for the Crimsons Aquatics in Whitinsville, hasnâ€™t missed a beat since winning his two events at the state meet.
He owns best of 48.52 in the 100 freestyle and 22.22 in the 50 freestyle, set last year. In a dual meet with Hendricken back on Dec. 13, Bauer uncorked a sizzling 4:31 in the 500 freestyle.
â€śYou canâ€™t talk about the boys without mentioning Andrew Bauer,â€ť Josephson said. â€śHis best events are the 50 free and the 100 free, but heâ€™s also done very well in the 200 and 500. Heâ€™s got an outstanding 100 backstroke, too. (Against Prout, a 53-41 win,) he did the 20OIM for us. You can really move Andrew around quite a bit. Heâ€™s just a talented kid.â€ť
Junior teammates Matt Redihan and Mike Constantino have also excelled this year. Both are versatile swimmers with Constantino specializing in the butterfly and Redihan in the breaststroke.
One newcomer that has come on strong this season is sophomore Matthew McCarthy, who has never competed on a swim team.
â€śHeâ€™s come on and has already done 26 seconds for the 50, which is astounding from a couple of months,â€ť Josephson said.
The Cumberland coach expects her boysâ€™ team to contend for a top finish.
â€śAgain, I see a lot more parity with teams,â€ť she said. â€śYou got Hendricken thatâ€™s still dominant and can produce and produce and produce. Then you go to every other school and I think there is great opportunity for second through sixth to really shuffle up this year and see how people do.â€ť
The boys have five dual meets remaining on their league schedule, beginning with a Jan. 25 meet with East Greenwich at the East Providence H.S. pool. Before facing the Avengers, the girls will match up against Bay View at E.P. on Thursday in one of five league encounters left on their schedule.
The class meets for Div. I are on Feb. 12 at Roger Williams University and the state championship will take place at URI the weekend of Feb. 25-26.
â€śWeâ€™ll taper two weeks to one week before the states,â€ť Josephson said. â€śRight now, they are really in the thick of it. They are pushing maximum distance and everything. Weâ€™ll keep this hard training level until we get to that taper-off point.â€ť