Few boys swimming programs in New Jersey are as decorated as Cherry Hill East. The Cougars have won 15 state championships, sixth most in state history and second only to Moorestown (20) out of South Jersey schools.
More than half of the Cougars’ 15 state titles came during the 1970s. Cherry Hill East won eight titles in a nine-year span from 1971 through 1979, cementing its place as the state’s best program at the time.
The present-day Cougars are trying to replicate that dominance. This season, Cherry Hill East finished a perfect 15-0 and won its third state title in the past four seasons when it defeated North Jersey power Bridgewater-Raritan for the Public A championship in February. The 2020 senior class is the first to win at least three state championships since the class of 1979 won four state titles from 1976 to 1979. The Cougars’ dominant season has earned them South Jersey Sports Weekly Boys Winter Team of the Year honors.
“It’s crazy to think this class has won three state titles,” senior Bobby Irwin said. “We went to the state (championship) four years in a row, which is crazy. We’ve only lost one regular season meet the whole four years. We only had two losses over four high school years. It’s unbelievable.”
The Cougars’ resume speaks for itself. Cherry Hill East finished the season undefeated for the first time since 2017 and scored 100 or more points in all but one meet. The Cougars spent nearly all of the season ranked No. 1 in NJ.com’s rankings and were the No. 1 team in South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Power Poll for the entire winter season. Cherry Hill East finished the year having won 23 consecutive meets dating back to 2018 and has not lost a dual meet to a South Jersey opponent since January of 2013.
Senior Jackson Brookover said despite the program’s dominance, he doesn’t feel the team got respect from outsiders until its big win in December over Non-Public power Christian Brothers Academy. While that was the victory that vaulted the Cougars to the top of NJ.com’s poll, the team believes it was simply proof they were a force to be reckoned with.
“We didn’t want to be too cocky, but we wanted to be confident,” Irwin added about the team’s No. 1 ranking. “We really wanted to hold our own in the state and we did.”
Cherry Hill East didn’t shy away from competition. The Cougars also swam against another strong Non-Public program, St. Peter’s Prep, and faced all of South Jersey’s top teams, including Shawnee, Cherokee and Public C state champion Haddonfield.
“We always try to put together a strong schedule because, just where we’re at in the state, we want to face good competition,” said senior Andrew Maier. “We want to fix the things that need to be fixed so when we get to a big meet like the state championship, we’re ready to go.”
The Cougars also learned how to come from behind. Against Egg Harbor, Cherry Hill East trailed after the first meet before coming back with a strong performance in the 200 freestyle and taking over from there. In the state final against Bridgewater-Raritan, the Cougars trailed for the first half of the meet, but took control late behind strong performances from their freestyle relay teams as well as swimmers in the B and C lanes.
“(Coach Joe Cucinotti) said from the start that the meet was going to be very close and that if we are down, not to worry or stress about it,” senior Spencer DuBois said. “ We knew what events we were strong in, we just had to rely on those events.”
“I felt like we were able to step it up, we were able to compose ourselves, show up and bring our A game,” Brookover added.
— ROLL CHUBS (@CHECOUGARSSWIM) February 24, 2020
The 2020 senior class was reflective of what has made Cherry Hill East boys swimming such a powerhouse in recent years. The seniors represent neighborhood swim clubs from all around the township and compete against each other during the summer swim season. But when the high school swim season rolls around, everyone comes together to try and add more state championship awards to the already packed swimming trophy cases. Few groups have been as successful at achieving that goal as the 2020 Cherry Hill East senior class.
“Once the high school season starts, it’s all about the high school team,” Brookover said. “We’re all focused on the main goal.”