Don’t be surprised to see 19 people in Andrew Ayers’ yearbook senior picture this year — or Jeff Durbin’s, or Jared Hinkson’s — or any other member of the Royalton-Hartland boys varsity swim team.
It’s truly all-for-one and one-for-all in Middleport, where one of the greatest team dynasties in Niagara-Orleans League history humbly asked Thursday if they could all be pictured together, rather than this reporter simply featuring a couple of swimmers.
“That’s the type of team that we have here,” explained Rams head coach Bruce Matthews and his assistant Pete Smith.
The dynamic duo teamed up to coach the Roy-Hart boys and girls swim teams seven years ago and since then, both teams have excelled, particularly the boys, who have not lost a meet of any kind since they were beaten by Albion way back in the 2005-06 season.
Seven straight Niagara-Orleans League championships and 98 consecutive wins (including non-league meets) are easy to talk about, but it’s been a long and amazing trek from the beginning to the present for this small school.
“We bought into each other’s philosophies when we met and it’s worked out well,” Matthews said. “They expect in the fall that we’re going to work hard. Pete and I created that environment and the kids bought into it. We’ve had kids who could barely swim a lap when they first joined and four years later, they’re thinking of swimming at college. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.”
Despite the loss to graduation of some truly great swimmers, this year’s Rams haven’t skipped a beat. The many younger swimmers who stood by for years waiting for a chance to prove themselves, finally got it this season and are making the most of their opportunities.
“A lot of the guys who are here are guys who’ve been waiting in the wings. We’ve had some real studs come through the program,” Matthews said. “Now, here’s their chance to swim in the middle of the lane and get the limelight and they’re working hard.”
In past undefeated seasons, it’s been familiar names like the Beabouts, Jon and sibling twins Josh and Jason, along with Aaron Wagner, Zach Yates, Kevin Jennings and Patrick and Cody Jones, who were main players in getting the most recent dynasty started.
Today, it’s a brand new set of fresh faces leading the Rams, who have won the past two sectional Class C championships. Many of today’s top performers are former members of the Lockport YMCA or the Roy-Hart Sea Lions or the school’s modified program, which was unfortunately eliminated by budget cuts this year.
Among the top swimmers at Roy-Hart are junior Roy Phipps, who’s the league’s top prospect in the 50 and 100 freestyles. Also topping the league are fellow Rams junior Lyle Wagner (200 IM and 100 butterfly), distance specialist senior Jeff Durbin in the 200 and 500 freestyles and Roy-Hart’s 200 and 400 free relay quartets of senior Luke Brauer (50 and 100 free specialist), Phipps, Durbin and Wagner.
Among other top performers include junior distance and breaststroke specialist Nich DiNardo and senior medley and backstroke specialist Andrew Ayers. Up and coming talents include sophomore freestyler Raymond Sack, freshman Mason Sparks and eighth grader Elliot Spitzer.
Others on the roster have parents who swam at Roy-Hart and these include Brauer, junior Zach Augustyn and senior Jared Hinkson. Rounding out the roster are seniors David Kling, Jimmy Sparks, Brent Thorman and Nate Wheeler, juniors David Brooks and Evan Conley; and sophomores Denzel Flowers and Colton Spicer.
Despite their success in the pool, Matthews and Smith said they’re most proud of the fact that their team is an annual winner of the Scholar Athlete Award from the state.
In the meantime, both coaches know that they can’t keep winning forever. At some point, there will be a loss.
“When it happens, it will hurt. I’ve gotten a little worked up at meets when it’s been close. When it happens, it happens. Maybe not soon. I know that a lot of the younger guys want to keep the streak going,” Matthews said.
Next up for Roy-Hart is the annual All-League Boys Swim Meet at Akron at 6 p.m. Tuesday, then the Class C meet Feb. 9 at Maryvale and sectionals Feb. 16 at Clarence.
“We can’t do it without the parents,” Smith said. “When we travel to an away meet, you can see a pile of purple shirts taking up an entire section. They are very supportive and part of the reason for our success.”