Nearly every boys swimming meet in the powerful state Non-Public A bracket is a showdown, like today's semifinal between St. Augustine Prep and Bergen Catholic.
St. Augustine, the Cape-Atlantic League's top boys team since 2004, will be the underdog when the two teams meet at 6 p.m. at the Raritan Bay Area YMCA in Perth Amboy.
The Prep, the bracket's third seed, is 8-1 and ranked second all year in The Press Elite 11. The Hermits' only loss was 86-84 to Delaware rival Salesianum School. Second-seeded Bergen Catholic, of Oradell in Bergen County, is 7-1, losing only to defending state Public A champion Westfield, 93-77.
"Obviously, they have a lot of speed, and they have decent depth," St. Augustine coach Jon Stinson said of Bergen Catholic. "Our guys will have to step up and swim fast to have any chance to win."
St. Augustine graduated several seniors last year but never took a step backward. The Hermits prevailed against Mainland Regional 91-79 in the season opener and went on to once again dominate the CAL American Conference at 7-0.
St. Augustine features Colin McHugh, Matt Taccard, Austin Campbell, Ryan Seay, John Gregory, Andrew Burr and Brendan Donnelly. Freshmen Zach Washart, Luke Snyder, Alan Hsueh and Matt Mahon have won key races to keep the Prep at the top of the CAL.
St. Augustine topped sixth-seeded St. Joseph-Metuchen 119-51 on Feb. 12 in a state Non-Public A quarterfinal.
"We've had a great season," said McHugh, a 17-year-old junior from Sicklerville. "Everybody kind of underestimated us, and didn't think we'd be up to our usual standard. But I think we have more depth than the other years I've been here, and our freshmen have really helped. I knew that if we could get by Mainland that we'd win (the conference) again."
Bergen Catholic's top swimmers are Joshua Sembrano, Sebastian Lopez, Liam Kelly, John Om and Robert Farrell.
The state final is Saturday at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.
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