By Thursday night, coach Bob Querubin and St. Augustine coach Ryan Sprang had scheduled a meet between their teams for 7:20 tonight at Burlington County College.
"This is an opportunity for the seniors, the whole team and the school to rise to the top," Querubin said. "They're happy about the opportunity, but they're also just enjoying being up there that high."
Bishop Eustace, which lost early in the season to East when neither team was at full strength, also has a chance to claim South Jersey supremacy. The Crusaders are scheduled to face Haddonfield on Tuesday and, if all goes according to form, will face St. Augustine in the Parochial B state final on Feb. 28.
Haddonfield, East and Eustace will also be in the same pool Monday night for the South Jersey Swim League championships.
For now, though, the focus is on Haddonfield and St. Augustine, which beat East, 90-80, in a meet that didn't include diving.
Against East, Haddonfield won just four events - the 400 freestyle relay, senior Rob Glenn in the 200 individual medley, senior Andrew Purves in the 50 freestyle and sophomore Kyle Mitrione in diving - but used its depth to win.
"I can't remember a meet where so many things went right for us," Querubin said.
Fast in the middle. Cherry Hill West might not have the overall depth to beat the best teams in South Jersey, but the Lions' front-line talent can put on a show.
West stacked its lineup in the 200 medley and the 200 freestyle relays and swam away with victories in Division A of the South Jersey Interscholastic Swimming Association Coaches' Invitational last Saturday.
Sophomore Mark Neiman, senior Joe Madres, sophomore Matt Mattingly and senior Fred Tanzio combined to win the medley relay in 1 minute, 42.30 seconds, beating rival Cherry Hill East by 0.84 seconds and posting the best time in South Jersey this season.
"We were surprised with the 200 relay," Neiman said. "It started the meet off real good for us. It's always good to beat your rival."
Later, senior Eric O'Neill, Mattingly, Neiman and Tanzio won the 200 freestyle relay in 1:32.34, beating St. Augustine by 1.28 seconds and again posting the best time in the region this season.
That was just part of Neiman's big day. He was also second in both the 200 and 500 freestyle, breaking a school record in the latter.
In the 500, Neiman went stroke-for-stroke with swimmer-of-the-year candidate Christian Sprang, a junior from St. Augustine. Sprang won in 4:42.35. Neiman's time of 4:42.52 broke the school record of 4:45.86, set in 2000 by Andrew Patrizzi.
"It's better when you break a record and it's someone who's really known like [Patrizzi]," said Neiman, who was also second in the 200 freestyle.
Sprint champ. J.D. Hala had a simple goal when he arrived at the Division B meet.
"I came here to do what I knew I could do," Hala, a Haddon Township junior, said.
Hala wanted to win the 50 and 100 freestyles - and establish himself as one of the best sprinters in South Jersey.
"I just felt good all-around. I felt good in the water. I felt good off the walls," Hala said. "This is big-time. This lets everyone know how I am."
Hala won the 50 in 22.69 seconds and the 100 in 49.81.
Zach attacks. Zach Schiavo is used to big-meet swimming. He is only a freshman at Bishop Eustace, but he has raced top swimmers countless times in United States Swimming meets.
Still, when he got on the blocks Saturday, he had to fight a case of the butterflies.
"I'm still a bit nervous," Schiavo said.
It didn't show, as he dominated in the first big invitational of his high school career. In Division B, Schiavo won the 200 freestyle in 1:45.29, the best time in South Jersey this season, and the 500 freestyle in 4:46.06. He also anchored Eustace's 400 freestyle relay team, which was missing normal anchor Chris Howard because he was on a college visit, to a win.
"He's very unassuming," Eustace coach Mike Parker said. "It's so refreshing that he doesn't know how good he is."
Well, Schiavo has an idea.
Asked for a goal for the season, he didn't hold back.
"I just want to win the 200 at states," he said.
Contact suburban staff writer Josh Egerman at 856-779-3865 or firstname.lastname@example.org.