BARKER — Dominating a high school winter sport that demands depth is never easy for one of the Niagara-Orleans League's smallest schools.
But like all things Barker, if it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it.
Head coach Mike Gendrue's small, but feisty Barker Raiders boys varsity swim squad has managed to find that elusive winning formula in 2017-18 en route to not only a Niagara-Orleans League co-championship (with large-school Albion) this season, but several record-setting performances by individuals along the way, including senior co-captains Colin Webb and Andrew Jenks.
“At the All-League Meet, we took six first-places,” Gendrue said. “We do that during the season and we don't win a meet, because we have to take 8-9 places. What's helped us this year is the way younger guys have developed.”
Webb and Jenks each won two individual title last week at the annual N-O Boys Swim Championships at Akron High School. The outstanding sprinter Webb earned a record fourth straight N-O title in the 50-yard freestyle (:22.54), while repeating as champion in the 100 freestyle (:49.53), while Jenks touched first in the 200 individual medley (2:14.32) and repeated as N-O champ in the 100 butterfly (:58.27), was seventh in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free finals.
“It might be once in a coaching career that you get both of them, especially out here in a small district where we don't have a swim club,” Gendrue said. “They're not only good swimmers, but they're great kids. and without them pushing the younger swimmers and trying to achieve individual honors themselves, we wouldn't have achieved a team league co-championship.”
Webb and Jenks have seen both the high tides and the low tides in fruitful Barker swimming careers. Webb came into the program like giant tsunami— literally, at 6-4.
“I was going down to sign up for basketball in seventh grade and Mr. Gendrue cut me off and asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ and I said, ‘I'm going to sign up for basketball’ and he said, ‘No, you're not. I've already signed you up for swimming.’ I ended up in the pool a couple of weeks later,” Webb said.
Webb credited his older brother, Casey, with chasing him around the pool, teaching him how to sprint swiftly at a very young age. The N-O Meet boys swim record he established just a few days ago may never broken — winning his fourth straight league title in the 50-yard freestyle.
“I was always compared to him in sports growing up because we have similar statures,” Webb said. “My dream has always been to be a little better than him. Winning the league 50 free title as a freshman changed everything. People were starting to look at me differently after that. I'm very proud of the record we've set in a league that has us going up against bigger schools every week.”
Webb said his goals are to qualify for states in either the 50 or 100 free. As of this week, Webb's only a split second off each state-qualifying mark — .27 of a second off the state 50 free mark and just 0:00.7 off the state 100 free qualifying mark.
“The team's success is huge,” Webb said. “Sometimes I have to take a step back and look at everything. I went from being on a team with a 11 guys and we lost every single meet and now were co-league champs. It's been an incredible season.”
Jenks has shown versatility in the water from a very young age. He swam his first medley relay as an eighth grader and hasn't looked back since.
“I think the IM's my best event, but I've done well in the 100 butterfly as well,” said Jenks, who successfully defended his N-O butterfly title at this year's all-league meet.
“It's definitely harder to defend a title than winning it for the first time because there's a lot more people who want to take the title from you,” Jenks said. “We've been working closely this year with other swimmers, like Dom Clementi, trying to get him to drop his 50 free time down so we could work on breaking more records. This season has been more about building a team, rather than us as individuals.”
Gendrue, who's assisted by Bill Wilson, said his team looks forward to defending five class titles next week and hopes to qualify even more swimmers for the Section VI and state meets.
Webb and Jenks also teamed up with fellow senior Adam Wagner and junior Clementi to win the 200 medley relay in 1:44.35 at the N-O Meet. Barker's “B Medley Relay” quartet of senior Joseph Baronich, sophomore Zachary Lawson and eighth graders Ryan Santarsiero and Drew Sandolfini placed second in their division finals.
Jenks, Clementi, Wagner and Webb also won the 200 yard free A relay (1:32.28) at the N-O Meet. In the B Relay, Barker junior Michael Dalton, freshman Nathan Heideman (17th in the 50 free), Sandolfini and sophomore Alexander Jenks placed second.
Wagner went on to place third in the 200 freestyle at the N-O Meet. Dalton was 14th in the 100 free, as well as 13th in the 200 free, followed by teammate freshman Ryan Stevener in 14th.
Santarsiero was sixth in the 200IM, followed by Baronich in eighth. Santarsiero also placed sixth in the 500 free, followed by freshman teammate William Goodlander in 15th.
Stevener finished 10th in the 100 backstroke N-O final, with Lawson placing 11th. Clementi was third in the 100 breaststroke, with Baronich seventh and Goodlander 16th.
Wagner, Dalton, Alex Jenks and Clementi also placed fifth in the 400 free A relay final. Santarsiero, Sandolfini, Lawson and Stevener were third in the B 400 free final.