The young and deeply talented undefeated Christian Brothers Academy swim team is facing Seton Hall Prep in the NJSIAA state finals at the College of New Jersey Sunday, and is determined to bring home the team's fourth state championship in a row -- and the fifth one in its history.
CBA first won in 1998, and then the winning streak began in 2010, continuing in 2011 and 2012. Fingers are crossed that Sunday will result in another.
"It's very rare to win a state championship; it's a privilege and an honor," said Coach Vito Chiaravalloti, in an interview before the team's traditional pre-competition pasta dinner Saturday night. "The boys take it seriously to be lucky enough to win one."
You don't get to be one of the team's 52 members without taking it seriously, or without supportive parents who do all the driving. The Colts practice for 90 minutes six days a week at the Neptune Aquatic Center, between November 15 and March 1 under the direction of Chiaravalloti and the Colt's swimming team assistant coach Laura Nicastro.
Outside of that, about half of them may practice up to two hours, six days a week on club teams at the Red Bank Y, the Central Jersey Aquatic Center, the Western Monmouth Y in Freehold, the NJ Race Club and the Monmouth Barracudas out of Neptune.
In the Feb. 24 competition, about 20 members of the team will compete in three relays and 7 individual races. And in each event, each of the three CBA swimmers competing will be "above average."
"If I had to say what the meet will come down to, I'd have to say our 'depth.' Our depth will carry us through," said Chiaravalloti. "Rob Whitacre is one of the best swimmers in the state in the 100-yard backstroke and freestyle, and we have top guys and incredible depth in the other two spots in each race."
Whitacre is a junior, as are the top butterfly competitors Dean Shafirtz and Matt Zebrowski. Zack Digiaro, another top swimmer, is a freshman. "We're going to be coming back next year with a very strong team," the coach said.
Sunday's event will be the highest level one for the Colts team this year, led by senior captains Josh Berger, Ryan Dunigan, Joe Caucino; there is no national competition at the high school level.
The coach said CBA fans who can't come to Ewing in person can keep track of the results on CBA's Twitter feed. The competition starts at 2 p.m.