MERIDEN — We always get a kick out of seeing Cheshire senior Sam Hanke. Not only is he a terrific swimmer, he’s got a vintage “Jaws” T-shirt.
This year, watching boys swimming was like watching “Jaws” up until when Chief Brody tells the shark to smile. It was a heck of a show, but the climactic scene was missing. The coronavirus pandemic snapped its jaws right before the state meets.
What champions may have been crowned, what records may have been set, are lost to the depths of circumstance.
We do know we had an exceptional cast of swimmers in each of our area programs. We’ve narrowed this teeming sea of contenders for Boys Swimmer of the Year to four finalists: Southington seniors Derek Melanson and Tyler Heidgerd, Sheehan junior Joey Zellner and our cinematic compatriot from Cheshire, Sam Hanke.
Melanson and Heidgerd were the leading lights for a Southington team that was as deep as the far end of the pool. The Blue Knights went 10-1 during the dual-meet season and won the team title at the CCC West postseason meet.
Melanson, who is going on to swim at Southern Connecticut State, won 20 individual races during the regular season. Heidgerd brought home 19.
After the CCC West meet, they were tied at 21. Heidgerd defended his division title in the 100 backstroke in 55.30 seconds and claimed a new one in the 200 freestyle in 1:50.63, while Melanson earned the championship in the 200 individual medley in 2:04.19.
Melanson and Heidgerd also teamed on two first-place relays at that CCC West meet, the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle.
Their time of 1:40.93 in the 200 medley, crafted with Landon Colby and Jon Cocchiola, was a meet record.
The 400 freestyle relay, with its winning time of 3:23.64, was closing in on a Southington school record, one that Heidgerd and Melanson, in concert with Colby and Kyle Buchanan, expected to rewrite in the state meets.
Those state meets also held considerable promise for Zellner and Hanke. Both were coming off individual conference titles at the SCC Championships.
Zellner claimed his in the 100 freestyle. It was the closest race of the meet. Zellner touched in 48.82 to edge North Haven’s Hethon Foster by 3/100ths of a second.
Zellner finished fourth in Class S a year ago in the 100 free and would have been a leading contender again this year, with a likely trip to the State Open lying beyond that.
Ditto for Hanke. He was State Open runner-up last year in the 100 backstroke.
This winter, Hanke repeated as SCC champ in the backstroke in 51.56, more than a full second ahead of the rest of the field.
He also earned All-SCC designation with second-place finishes in the individual 200 freestyle and with the 400 freestyle relay.
Hanke graduates as Cheshire’s record-holder in the backstroke with the 51.33 he swam in his second-place showing at last year’s State Open. He is going on to swim at the University of South Carolina
So you see, Sam, when it came to making the final cut, it was more than just the T-shirt.
The Record-Journal “Best of the Bunch” awards video airs on Thursday, June 18 on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. and will be on myrecordjournal.com after that. The R-J is giving away an iPad Mini to one person who watches the event live on Facebook. Enter at myrecordjournal.com/ipad. Tomorrow’s finalists: Wrestling.