It’s amazing that the pool at Felix Festa Middle School still stands after Ryan Feeley and his merry band of relay-mates set fire to it along with the Section record book last year.
That Rye swimming and diving team – headlined by a strong cast of seniors – went on to dominate at States, but left a large void for the next generation of Garnets to fill. To no one’s great surprise, however, head coach Carle Fierro’s swimmers ably stepped up and into those shoes. Led by standout junior All-Americans Kevin Hughes and Chris Lyons and senior captains Ben Palais and Ben Rubenstein, also an All-American, Rye’s season reached its tipping point in early February at Felix Festa in the Section 1 preliminaries and championships.
The Garnets finished fourth overall out of 22 teams, and will once again be represented at States – to be held February 26 and 27 at Erie Community College – in a variety of events. Hughes will participate in both the 200- and 500-meter freestyle races, while Lyons will compete in the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter breaststroke. Rubenstein also qualified for States in the breaststroke, and will team with Palais, Lyons, and Hughes in the 200-meter IM relay.
“I was very pleased with everyone’s performance,” said Fierro. “Palais did a great job. It’s difficult to follow what they did last year – those boys had a few years of experience on the big relays, so there was a lot of pressure.”
Hughes provided Rye its signature moment at Sectionals by finishing first in the 500-meter freestyle race at 4:40.60. He was able to lop a full eight seconds off his time from preliminaries, and beat the second place swimmer by three seconds.
“I didn’t feel good during the preliminaries, but I felt great at the finals,” said Hughes. “I was able to move really fast in the water.”
The junior standout nearly won the 200-meter freestyle as well, but was touched out by Horace Greeley All-American Matt Hadley, 1:43.10 to 1:43.24. Although there is no shame in losing to a foe like Hadley, Hughes had an incredulous look on his face as he looked up from the pool to the scoreboard at the end of the race.
“Kevin just ran out of pool,” said Fierro. “We talked about the strategy of that race on the bus, and Kevin really followed the plans. We knew Hadley was a fast starter, so it was necessary to stay with him for the first 100 meters and then try and take him in the final 100.”
In the first finals event, the 200-meter IM relay, Hughes, Lyons, Rubenstein, and Palais swam their way to a bronze medal in a time of 1:39.68. Rubenstein was able to butterfly his team out of fourth during the third leg, and Palais locked the Garnets into the bronze from his freestyle anchor position. Rye’s foursome also took second in the 200-meter freestyle relay, but just missed qualifying for States.
Lyons grabbed another bronze in the 200-meter IM with a time of 1:59.69, and placed eighth in the breaststroke right behind Rubenstein at seven.
“Chris is very versatile,” said Fierro. “He could have swapped events and made States in a variety of races.”
Fierro was ecstatic that, on a very young Garnets team with a lot of underclassmen, a few of her 8th graders qualified for Sectionals, including Raoul Rodriguez, Sam Rubenstein and Gabriel Girotto.