WAYNE – Piero Urteaga went where no one has before. Passaic Tech went back where it belongs.
Urteaga and the Bulldogs swept the team race at Saturday’s Passaic County Swimming Championships and continued what’s becoming one of the most impressive runs in the sport. The championship was the fifth straight for the boys and second on the girls side.
For Urteaga, it was the pinnacle of a senior year that began in August on the soccer field. He became the first athlete in school history to win a county championship in both the pool and the pitch.
“This one was more emotional for me because I’ve been swimming for eight years now,” said Urteaga, a centerback who won the 200 IM. “Everything that we accomplished –making Tech swimming one of the best ones in the county and state – was amazing. I do this for Coach (Denise Aronson), for pushing me to do my best.”
The meet was actually decided well before Urteaga dove in for the final lap. Passaic Tech won eight of 11 boys races to run away with 439 points, blowing past Wayne Valley (350) and Wayne Hills (277). Sophomore Daljin Castro was a double-winner in the sprint events, while Brandon Arias and Justin Conillas also picked up a win of their own.
“My whole team stepped up,” Aronson said. “With losing my six or seven superstars, I thought it was going to be a lot tougher. But the kids stepped up and did what they had to do.”
The story was a little bit different on the girls side. Passaic Tech coach Gen Wall was always confident in her group since she brought in 11 freshmen and lost just one swimmer from last year. She predicted a county championship at her team’s first practice, but was met with some skeptical looks. There was no doubting it on Saturday as Vanessa Hernandez set a butterfly record and Symi Lall crushed her own mark in the backstroke.
“You have to believe that you can win,” Wall said. “They’re still so young and I don’t think they have the sense yet that we can win and go to state finals and do all these things.”
Passaic Tech backed up her words with 420 points to get past Wayne Valley (384) in a close two-team race. The Indian girls actually finished on top in seven of the 11 races, including four in a row to start the day. Freshman Grace Sendak kicked off her career by winning both distance freestyles and also set a pair of relay records. Another breaststroke title for senior Claire Custance made her only the second Passaic County girl to four-peat an individual event. Yet the overall championship was won and lost in the outside lanes, where Passaic Tech showed off its depth.
“That’s how it’s going to be for a while with all the good freshmen,” Passaic Tech senior Mary Pilkington said. “I wasn’t expecting us to be how we are, but we all just come together as a family. I’m so happy that I could swim my last year with everyone here.”
This was only the third time a school monopolized the Passaic titles with Wayne Hills first doing so in 2010. Wall considered Saturday’s feat especially meaningful since it showed that last year wasn’t a fluke.
“I think it’s more special than last year,” Wall said. “Mary watched us build. I told her that she shouldn’t be worried about freshmen coming in and breaking her records. They’re only doing it because she did it first. They are only doing it because she set this trajectory for us. We’re just following it and this is the start.”