Prep photo

St. Augustine Prep’s T.J. Merighi of Vineland practices Wednesday at the Navone Pool in Buena Vista Township.

Edward Lea

Besides the usual training and hard work, the St. Augustine Prep boys swimming team always has a lot to think about before every season.

The Hermits first of all have to focus on beating an ever-stronger field of Cape-Atlantic League American Conference contenders, including Mainland Regional, Egg Harbor Township, Vineland, Oakcrest and Atlantic City.

Then the Prep has to concentrate on winning its nonleague meets against powers such as Moorestown, Haddonfield and Salesianum School (Del.). Included in that is the goal of winning Division A of the South Jersey Interscholastic Coaches Meet. The Prep has won at the Coaches’ Meet eight straight years.

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But the toughest challenge of all is taking on dominant northern New Jersey teams in the state Non-Public A tournament, namely Christian Brothers Academy and St. Joseph-Metuchen.

St. Augustine has had great success in the CAL and southern New Jersey meets but hasn’t been able to win the state title since 2009.

“Since I’ve taken over (in the 2006-2007 season) we’ve graduated senior classes of 10 or more swimmers,” said St. Augustine coach Jon Stinson. “It’s great to have big senior classes, but if they don’t step up you fall short. The last three years we’ve stayed at the same level, but St. Joseph and CBA got some really good freshmen.”

St. Augustine won state Non-Public titles (four A and one B) five of six years between 2004 and 2009, including three straight for Stinson’s teams from 2007-2009).

CBA beat St. Augustine 86-84 in the state Non-Public A final in 2010 when a controversial disqualification cost the Prep the title. A year later CBA topped the Hermits 94-76 in a state Non-Public A semifinal. Last year St. Joseph-Metuchen beat the Prep 104-66 in a semifinal.

“We had a good freshman class last year (led by Colin McHugh), and this year they have potential,” Stinson said. “Our school had the numbers but we didn’t bring in swimmers in big numbers. We seem to be back on track now and hopefully it will pay off this year and in the future. If you have the numbers, you can make that into something great later.”

St. Augustine is led by senior distance man Pat Flynn, The Press Boys Swimmer of the Year last year along with older brother Jeff Flynn. The Flynns led the Prep to a 10-2 mark and 8-0 in the American Conference. The Hermits haven’t lost to a CAL opponent since 2003.

“We have a big senior class with a lot of potential, and we have very good sophomores and juniors,” said Flynn, a 17-year-old Absecon resident. “We’ll see what the freshmen can bring. We’ve gone undefeated in the CAL so long, and the seniors definitely want to keep that up. It would be great if we could pull something off in the state tournament.”

Three other top scorers are seniors T.J. Merighi and Sam Sheppard, both Press second-team All-Stars last winter, and Sam Newnam, an honorable mention All-Star.

“We’ll be pretty solid,” said Newnam, 17, of Ocean City. “We lost a few (to graduation) but we’ll be fine. The biggest thing is states and individual states (the event commonly called the Meet of Champions). We have a couple new people who should be good.”

Stinson doesn’t reveal everything in the preseason but gives some observations. “Our seniors will lead us,” Stinson said. “We have our better years when the seniors step up and lead. Our underclassmen seem to be doing very well. I’m excited for the future and I’m excited for the year. Our junior class is small, but good, and our sophomores are strong.”

St. Augustine opens up at home on Dec. 5 against Mainland Regional, a team which went 13-2 last year and reached the South Jersey Public A final. The Prep topped Mainland 108-62 last winter.

The Prep is tentatively scheduled to host Moorestown in late December, and has a home meet with Salesianum School on Jan. 29. Salesianum beat St. Augustine 91-79 on Jan. 31.

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