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The West Orange girls swimming team gets together around the Super Essex Conference/Essex County championship meet team trophy after copping top honors for the first time in program history at the Raritan Bay Area YMCA in Perth Amboy Jan. 16. (photo courtesy of West Orange HS)

West Orange Girls Persevere
To Win First SEC/Essex Crown
By Cynthia Cumming

PERTH AMBOY- The West Orange High School girls swimming Team won their first-ever Super Essex Conference/Essex County championship on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 16), at the Raritan Bay Area YMCA beating out prime contenders Caldwell, Millburn and Newark Academy to take top honors with 179 points.

"In my freshman year, we were 0-10," said senior captain Nerissa Santa Cruz. "Now in my senior year, we are currently undefeated and conference champs."

While the West Orange girls were making history, the boys SEC/Essex meet went pretty much according to form as deep and talented Seton Hall Prep rolled to another team crown with 389 points, well ahead of second-place Millburn (190.5).

After winning only one meet in 2014 and struggling to compete with powerful Caldwell, which is a multiple championship winner and was the favorite entering the Jan. 16th meet in Perth Amboy, the West Orange team simply continued to practice hard and persevere.

The Mountaineers had ended last season with a greatly-improved record of 6-4 and this year they are currently undefeated at 7-0. For the first time, the girls swim team will have a conference championship banner in Tarnoff Gym joining the girls volleyball team as first-ever conference champions, making them part of West Orange High School history.

The team practices in the pool at Rutgers University in Newark and several of the swimmers also participate in club swimming.  Coach Mark Navata, a longtime coach of the West Orange Waves swim team, has helped to develop and support both the girls and boys teams along with assistant coach Kayla Negron.

The girls went into the SEC/Essex championship meet in third place with no expectation of winning a team title. Claudine Bernadotte, one of the Mountaineers’ best sprinters, and anchor for the 200- and 400-freestyle relays, had to forgo the meet due to a death in the family, making a team victory tenuous at best.

Then things began to change.

Santa Cruz, Narduzzi, Gilio-Malabre Simone Byun and Amy Butcher all set personal bests at the meet, and several others beat their heat times. 

As the 100-yard backstroke began, West Orange was in fourth place behind Columbia, Millburn, and Caldwell. Mellany Smith and Santa Cruz placed 2-3 to add 25 points. During the 100-yard breaststroke, Madeline Narduzzi placed third, Christina Gilio-Malabre fifth, and Simone Byun 11th, to add 24 points. Heading into the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, West Orange had a five-point lead.

When Millburn took first in the event, Caldwell placed second, and West Orange third, it allowed the Mountaineers to hold onto first place by three points.  

"I'm so honored to be part of such a hardworking and positive team," concluded Santa Cruz. “With the winning atmosphere Coach Marc Navata and Coach Kayla Negron developed, we really turned the team around.

“It feels great to be from West Orange!"

SEC/Essex County Girls Championship Swim Meet Results:

TEAM SCORES: 1-West Orange 179; 2-Caldwell 176; 3-Millburn 169; 4-Newark Academy 143; 5-Columbia 130; 6-Mount St. Dominic 119; 7-Montclair 112; 8-Livingston 102; 9-West Essex 90; 10-Glen Ridge 28; 11-MKA 24.

200-YARD MEDLEY RELAY:  1-West Orange (Mellany Smith, Christina Gilio-Malabre, Nerissa Santa Cruz, Madeline Narduzzi) 1:55.30. 2-Newark Academy 1:56.01. 3-Livingston 1:56.92. 4-Mount St. Dominic 1:57.41. 5-Caldwell 1:59.37. 6-Montclair 2:01.14.

200-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Megan Balbo, Millburn, 1:58.41. 2-Elly Ragone, Columbia, 2:00.05. 3-Jonina Mignon, Millburn, 2:02.23. 4-Elizabeth Murray, Caldwell, 2:03.75. 5-Bridget Bowen, Newark Academy, 2:05.06. 6-Delaney Smith, Mount St. Dominic, 2:05.26. 

200-YARD INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY:  1-Natalie Dalla Riva, Caldwell, 2:06.96. 2-Danning Hu, Newark Academy, 2:11.63. 3-Isabella Chen, Livingston, 2:12.58. 4-Fiona Palumbo, Mount St. Dominic, 2:18.89. 5-Alyssa Levy, Millburn, 2:19.21. 6-Madeline Narduzzi, West Orange, 2:21.94.

50-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Linnea Endersby, Caldwell, 25.68. 2-Mellany Smith, West Orange, 25.83. 3-Tess Morrissey, Mount St. Dominic, 25.87. 4-Caroline Cerny, Columbia, 26.26. 5-Abby Hartwig, Millburn, 26.44. 6-Maya Crawford, Montclair, 26.52.

100-YARD BUTTERFLY:  1-Marie Fagan, Columbia, 59.37. 2-Nerissa Santa Cruz, West Orange, 1:00.37. 3-Claire Xu, Newark Academy, 1:00.79. 4-Fiona Palumbo, Mount St. Dominic, 1:00.91. 5-Andrea Echo, West Essex, 1:03.04. 6-Samantha Corredor, Montclair, 1:03.69.

100-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Linnea Endersby, Caldwell, 55.92. 2-Tess Morrissey, Mount St. Dominic, 56.65. 3-Abby Hartwig, Millburn, 56.73. 4-Isabella Data, West Essex, 56.93. 5-Wennie Iben, Newark Academy, 58.72. 6-Audrey Kim, Livingston, 58.95.

500-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Marie Fagan, Columbia, 5:10.35. 2-Megan Balbo, Millburn, 5:12.35. 3-Elly Ragone, Columbia, 5:20.92. 4-Elizabeth Murray, Caldwell, 5:23.77. 5-Jonina Mignon, Millburn, 5:28.20. 6-Delaney Smith, Mount. St. Dominic, 5:30.53.

200-YARD FREESTYLE RELAY:  1-Millburn (Jonina Mignon, Alyssa Levy, Abby Hartwig, Megan Balbo) 1:43.61. 2-Columbia 1:43.77. 3-Newark Academy 1:45.46. 4-Livingston 1:46.95. 5-West Orange 1:48.92. 6-West Essex 1:49.06.

100-YARD BACKSTROKE:  1-Natalie Dalla Riva, Caldwell, 57.83. 2-Mellany Smith, West Orange, 1:01.40. 3-Nerissa Santa Cruz, West Orange, 1:01.89. 4-Audrey Kim, Livingston, 1:03.52. 5-Kathrynna Demetillo, Montclair, 1:04.02. 6-Isabella Valle, West Essex, 1:05.73.

100-YARD BREASTSTROKE:  1-Isabella Chen, Livingston, 1:08.69. 2-Claire Xu, Newark Academy, 1:09.64. 3-Madeline Narduzzi, West Orange, 1:11.03. 4-Danning Hu, Newark Academy, 1:11.41. 5-Christina Gilio-Malabre, West Orange, 1:11.64. 6-Alyssa Levhy, Millburn, 1:11.71.

400-YARD FREESTYLE RELAY:  1-Millburn (Jonina Mignon, Alyssa Levy, Abby Hartwig, Megan Balbo) 3:42.99. 2-Caldwell 3:46.50. 3-West Orange 3:48.55. 4-Columbia 3:48.60. 5-Mount St. Dominic 3:51.03. 6-Montclair 3:54.85.

SEC/Essex County Boys Championship Swim Meet Results:

TEAM SCORES: 1-Seton Hall Prep 389; 2-Millburn 190.50; 3-Montclair 173; 4-Livingston 130.50; 5-Newark Academy 89; 6-Caldwell 74; 7- Glen Ridge 52 and Columbia 52; 9-St. Benedict's 47; 10-MKA 42; 11-West Essex 30; 12-West Orange 25.

200-YARD MEDLEY RELAY:  1-Seton Hall Prep (Colby Dixon, Dominic Palumbo, Matthew Michaels, Luke Shea) 1:40.57. 2-Millburn 1:41.92. 3-Montclair 1:44.48. 4-Livingston 1:46.15. 5-Newark Academy 1:48.37. 6-Glen Ridge 1:50.00.

200-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Mark Berger, Newark Academy, 1:46.56. 2-Kai Michaud, Montclair, 1:46.60. 3-Matthew Prior, Seton Hall Prep, 1:49.15. 4-Ben Amoreno, Seton Hall Prep, 1:49.82. 5-Lenny Brown, Seton Hall Prep, 1:50.03. 6-Kyle Silbert, Millburn, 1:53.65.

200-YARD INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY:  1-Alex Wang, Seton Hall Prep, 1:58.05. 2-Patrick Flint, Montclair Kimberley, 1:59.15. 3-Makai Charles, Montclair, 2:04.20. *4-Dominic Palumbo, Seton Hall Prep, 2:04.76. *4-Saverio, Seton Hall Prep, 2:04.76. 6-Matthew Michaels, Seton Hall Prep, 2:07.45.

50-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Roo Fenton, Seton Hall Prep, 22.01. 2-Perry Mescia, Caldwell, 22.48. 3-Luke Shea, Seton Hall Prep, 23.09. 4-Steven Iovine, Montclair, 23.51. 5-Aidan Rodgers, St. Benedict's, 23.59. 6-Max Auborn, Glen Ridge, 23.76.

100-YARD BUTTERFLY:  1-Mark Berger, Newark Academy, 53.12. 2-Matthew Michaels, Seton Hall Prep, 53.41. 3-Evan Ng, Millburn, 54.71. 4-Teddy Maguire, Millburn, 56.13. 5-Luke Shea, Seton Hall Prep, 56.50. 6-Patrick Yim, Livingston, 56.53.

100-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Roo Fenton, Seton Hall Prep, 48.43. 2-Perry Mescia, Caldwell, 48.97. 3-Colby Dixon, Seton Hall Prep, 49.42. 4-Thatcher Smith, Montclair, 49.94. 5-Aidan Rodgers, St. Benedict's, 52.34. 6-Anshul Kamath, Millburn, 52.43.

500-YARD FREESTYLE:  1-Kai Michaud, Montclair, 4:47.06. 2-Matthew Prior, Seton Hall Prep, 4:51.57. 3-Evan Ng, Millburn, 4:52.00. 4-Patrick Flint, Montclair Kimberley, 4:52.20. 5-Ben Amoreno, Seton Hall Prep, 4:52.28. 6-Declan Lynch, Columbia, 5:04.54.

200-YARD FREESTYLE RELAY:  1-Seton Hall Prep (Liam Fuchs, Matthew Michaels, Luke Shea, Roo Fenton) 1:31.45. 2-Millburn 1:35.96. 3-Caldwell 1:36.24. 4-Livingston 1:36.42. 5-Columbia 1:38.80. 6-Montclair 1:40.07.

100-YARD BACKSTROKE:  1-Colby Dixon, Seton Hall Prep, 54.08. 2-Alex Wang, Seton Hall Prep, 55.95. 3-Thatcher Smith, Montclair, 57.10. 4-Kevin Chen, Livingston, 58.00. 5-Ryan Martynowicz, Seton Hall Prep, 59.30. 6-Justin Mon, Millburn, 59.34.

100-YARD BREASTSTROKE:  1-Eric Wang, Millburn, 59.52. 2-Makai Charles, Montclair, 1:01.83. 3-Dominic Palumbo, Seton Hall Prep, 1:02.98. 4-Saverio Kaufman, Seton Hall Prep, 1:03.28. 5-Justin Ellis, Montclair, 1:05.08. 6-Joseph Gigantino, Seton Hall Prep, 1:05.45.

400-YARD FREESTYLE RELAY:  1-Seton Hall Prep (Matthew Prior, Alex Wang, Colby Dixon, Roo Fenton) 3:18.84. 2-Montclair 3:22.20. 3-Millburn 3:26.57. 4-Livingston 3:32.19. 5-Newark Academy 3:34.18. 6-St. Benedict's 3:35.55.

Natalie Dalla Riva helped lead second-place Caldwell as she won both the 200-Individual Medley (2:06.96) and 100-backstroke (57.83) as the Aqua Lady Chiefs finished just three points behind West Orange with 176 points to the 179 for Mountaineers. (File photo by Bill Allen)


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