Swim team aims for shot at state championships

It takes more than just a good swim time to be part of the Lenape High School boys’ swim team, said Head Coach Andre Lopez.

Team unity, he said, is of utmost importance.

The team’s season recently kicked off with an 86–84 win over Cherokee High School on Nov. 30.

“The last two years, Lenape boys have gotten really good,” he said.

In 2011, the team won the Pacific Division Championship title and made it to the state championships the last two years as well.

“We’re in the top division right now,” Lopez said.

The team was the eighth seed two years ago and seventh seed last year.

The hope is to make it back as either the fifth or sixth seed, he said.

During practices at Burlington County Special Services in nearby Lumberton, the team is divided into two sections due to the pool size.

Swimmers start with a 4–3–2–1 warm up to ready their muscles before moving into several sets to focus on different parts of the sport, such as endurance and stroke efficiency.

“A lot of people who try out for the team think, ‘I can swim fast in my backyard pool,’” Lopez said.

In reality, once swimmers reach the 25-foot pool with 1,000 yards of warm ups, the sport begins to look much more intense, he said.

“It’s a very technical sport,” he said, with the way a swimmer begins or ends his lap possibly making the difference between a win or a loss.

In his preseason outlook, Lopez said, “Once again, we have picked up several talented young swimmers to add to our growing depth. We look to another strong year with a renewed sense of dedication and commitment to success — both personal and team — that have been the building blocks of our program over the past few years of my tenure as head coach.

“With our returning veterans, we are setting our sights this year on another winning record and returning to the NJ Team State Championships for the third year in a row. We look to be a force in the Pacific Division this year.”

There are many standout swimmers this year, Lopez said, including the entire junior class, which has brought the school its current prestige.

“That whole junior class,” Lopez said, “has been a lot of the reason for our success.”

To name a few stars, John Shellem, a junior, is a sprinter for the team. Sophomore Steven Shek, Lopez said, “can pretty much do anything.”

Newcomers Jacob Gray, Michael Williams and Ryan Soutar have also had a strong impact on team thus far.

When swimmers arrive at practice, they know what lane they are in and whom they swim with best, he said. Moving up a lane is a big accomplishment.

To get better, he said, it’s all about practice.

“Practice. It really all does come down to practice,” said Lopez.

And practice they do, with the hope of many records being broken in the next year or two.

At Lenape, swimming is a varsity sport only due to space and other constraints.

Lopez has had the support of his wife, Heather, through his six years as coach.

Heather Lopez is the Lenape varsity girls’ current swimming team coach.

“It’s pretty exciting. We see a lot of each other,” he said, while standing a few feet away from her.

His career record at the start of the season was 19–34–1.

Most swim teams finish their seasons in early February. Team states run from mid to late February with individual states taking place in late February through early March, Lopez said.

As the season trickles on, Lopez is optimistic.

“They’re driven, passionate about what they do,” he said of his swimmers. “This is a team in every sense of the word. It’s all about the team.”