After losing to the Jersey City team by 60 points during the regular season and beating Secaucus by only 9 points, the Union City Recreation Tiburons swim team was not expected to do well in the Cross-County Swim League championships that took place on July 29 and 30 in Bayonne.
"No one really took us seriously going into the championships," said Union City coach Anthony Snarski last week.
However, the Union City Tiburons took second place in the championships and also captured some first place medals in the individual championships held the first week in August.
"We took second place in the championships," said Elke Tatulli, the director of the Bruce Walter Recreation Center, where the team practices. "That was a great accomplishment for some of these kids."
The team only had three first place finishes in the finals, but Snarski said that it was the team's depth that helped them win.
"Other teams dominated first place in most events," said Snarski. "But we had a lot of second, third and fourth place finishes that add up to more than first place."
However, the other teams weren't the only people surprised by how well the team finished.
Stanley Garcia, 10, was surprised when his relay team won first place in the championships.
"I didn't think that I was going to win," said Garcia. "The last time [we raced] we got disqualified."
Joining the league
Although the Cross County League was only established in 2002, other teams such as Secaucus and Bayonne had been participating in other leagues for many years. However, this is the first year that the Hudson County teams competed against each other in one league, and it was Union City's first year in any league.
Before joining the league, the team, which was formed in 1997, would have to pick up meets with other teams based around the other teams' meet schedules.
"Having a pool this size, it would be a shame not to have a swim team," said Tatulli about the indoor Olympic-size swimming pool in the Bruce Walter Recreation Center.
The Union City team begins practicing in May and holds practice sessions Monday through Friday.
This year's season consisted of four regular meets and then the championship meet and the individual championships
"Everybody gets to swim in the meets," said Snarski. "Everybody swims something."
When Snarski first took over the team two years ago, there were only 16 members on the team. Now, the team has more than 70 boys and girls ranging from 5 years old to 18 years old.
"We always had some interest because we always had swimming lessons here," said Tatulli, who has been the director of the facility since 1993. "Some of the kids who sign up for swimming lessons are very natural swimmers."
Kathleen Carmona, 10, who took first place in the 25-meter backstroke event for 9 and 10-year-old swimmers, was one of those natural swimmer. However, other needed a little more help.
"When I first had to swim a lap, I kind of bumped into the wall," said Diana Hernandez, 13, who has been on the team since it started in 1997.
Now, Hernandez is a team captain who plans to continue swimming in high school.
"I have a lot of kids come to the team who don't know how to swim," said Snarski. "But we teach them and turn them into swimmers."
Preparing them for high school
Snarski said his experience swimming for the Hudson Catholic High School team in Jersey City has helped him become a better coach for the Tiburons.
Snarski swam the 200-meter and the 500-meter freestyle events for Hudson Catholic in Jersey City.
"I brought everything that I learned in high school to this team," said Snarski "My goal is to train these kids to go onto the high school level."
Many of the older members of the Tiburons now swim for Emerson and Union Hill high school swim teams. Both schools began their swimming programs three years ago.
"This is definitely helping me become a better swimmer," said Jeff Mejia, 15, the team captain, who also swims for the Union Hill swim team. "I work out harder."
Many of the members of the team have now chosen swimming as their primary sport and plan to continue swimming in high school.
"I think that this is a great feeder team for the high schools," said Snarski. "We have some really great young kids."
For some swimmers, like Crystal Rivera, 12, the swim team is the only team they have joined.
"I like to play [other sports] on the street, but I am not on any other teams," said Rivera, who joined the team after her brother did about five years ago.
Rivera, Hernandez and most other members of the team said that they will stick with swimming in high school.
"I like the excitement when you are competing against other teams," said Rivera.
Rivera's brother, Fernando, 16, likes that swimming pushes you to do better individually for the team.
"In order to succeed you have to do better," said Fernando Rivera, 16, who also swims for the Emerson High School team.