It's a recipe for success on any level of sports, but like all things competitive, easier said than done.
• A sprinkle of returning all-stars and sectional and/or state qualifiers.
• A splash of returning senior leadership with a proven record of success.
• A teaspoon of experienced coaches throughout the program who not only impart knowledge, but maintain solid numbers.
Off to a 2-0 start this winter season in the Niagara Frontier League, the Lockport boys varsity swim Lions have lived by that formula since the historic days of the late Bob Pauley — but never any more than this 2018-19 season, under veteran head coach John Sullivan.
“We have a very unique team this year. We have a lot of guys up from the junior varsity — guys who did some real nice work last year,” Sullivan said at practice this week at the LHS pool. The swim Lions return to NFL action at 5 p.m. Friday against visiting Niagara-Wheatfield.
“We lost quite a few kids to graduation (almost a dozen),” Sullivan said. “That explains why we have such a huge contingent of guys coming up from the JV. But we don't have a huge drop off in numbers because of what (assistant coach and LHS JV head coach Kevin Clark) has done over the years. We plug the new guys in and they go. What coach Clark's been doing with huge numbers and managing pool space and getting the kids hooked into the sport and getting them to excel in the sport, getting them ready for varsity competition — it's a huge key to what we've been able to string together here over last half decade or so.”
The Lions return four seniors to their 2018-19 roster. They are Sean Denniston, Ryan Marso, Sean McKinney and Ethan Menges.
Fresh off a repeat Section VI title in boys volleyball last month, Denniston brings plenty more than tremendous athletic skills, he brings an outstanding work ethic and undeniable leadership skills. McKinney (baseball) and Menges (soccer) are also solid, all-around athletes, while Marso has impressed his coaches in his first season.
“Ethan's a distance freestyler, who had a nice end of the year, and Sean Denniston and Sean McKinney, who are kind of, ‘Mr. Everythings,’ are fantastic leadership guys,” Sullivan said.
“They set a great example. They've learned some of those leadership skills — Denniston from volleyball and McKinney from baseball — so it's really nice to reap the rewards of what they've learned from other sports. Ryan's new to the varsity. He's an incredibly hard worker. We're excited to see where his senior season takes him.”
Also back this season are highly-touted 2017 state qualifiers Jake Minnick and Mark Crocker, both juniors.
Minnick, the VI diving champion last year, “has been working incredibly hard,” Sullivan said.
“He's tweeked his dive list and added some new things and pushed up his degree of difficulty to make himself even more competitive at that next level of competition,” Sullivan said. “The past has been great, the future looks outstanding for him.”
Crocker comes of a top 20-finish in the state 100 butterfly finals last year.
“He's been upping his work load and his intensity,” Sullivan said. “I know he has some high personal expectations for the short and long term for the next couple of seasons.”
Several Lions swimmers, including some of those mentioned above, have already posted sectional-qualifying times at meets this season. Sullivan said this season there's a new emphasis on the class championships, which will now be a two-day format.
Among other LHS swimmers on the 22-man roster who have already qualified for the Section VI meet include juniors Ramsey Ross, Luke St. Amour and Colin Connolly.
“Ramsey jumped out in the 500 free, especially early on,” Sullivan said. “Luke has made some tremendous drops in the 500 free in the last couple of weeks where he finished last year and Colin has been dogged and diligent in making some changes to his breast stroke and I'm excited to see where he goes once he gets comfortable and natural and kind of thoughtless on those changes.”
The team to beat in the NFL this season looks like Kenmore — the combined Kenmore East and Kenmore West high schools — but Grand Island, whom the Lions defeated earlier this season, is also expected to be strong, Sullivan said.
“Kenmore has state qualifying relay, so they'll be a handful for us,” Sullivan said, “but I like out depth. We've already seen Grand Island and we'll see them again in a couple of weeks. They finished second at the Class B championship last year and didn't graduate a lot from their roster.”
Rounding out the Lions' 2018-19 boys varsity swim roster are juniors Evan Bruning, Maxum Fernbacher, Jarrett Jones, Anthony Shay, Luke Smeal and Carson Tatro; sophomores Jackson Doran, Andrew Moran, Nicholas Preskop, Jacob Schnure and Trent Smith; freshman Luke Menges and eighth grader Cole Smith.
LHS Boys Swim Schedule
All meets are 5 p.m. starts
Tue. @ North Tonawanda
12/18 NIAGARA FALLS
12/21 GRAND ISLAND
1/4 @ Lewiston-Porter
1/8 WILLIAMSVILLE EAST
1/11 @ Niagara-Wheatfield
1/15 NORTH TONAWANDA
1/18 @ Kenmore
1/22 @ Niagara Falls
Lions Swim Roster
Sean Denniston 12
Ryan Marso 12
Sean McKinney 12
Ethan Menges 12
Evan Bruning 11
Colin Connolly 11
Mark Crocker 11
Maxum Fernbacher 11
Jarrett Jones 11
Jake Minnick 11
Ramsey Ross 11
Anthony Shay 11
Luke Smeal 11
Luke St. Amour 11
Carson Tatro 11
Jackson Doran 10
Andrew Moran 10
Nicholas Preskop 10
Jacob Schnure 10
Trent Smith 10
Luke Menges 9
Cole Smith 8
NFL Boys Swimming
(As of today)
Team W L
Lockport 2 0
Kenmore 2 0
Gr. Island 1 1
Lew-Port 1 1
N-Wheatfield 1 1
Niagara Falls 0 2
N.Tonawanda 0 2