No one knew what to expect when the boys’ and girls’ swim teams split into two separate varsity programs for the first time this past winter. Since its inception, the roster had always been combined with girls competing against boys and both genders being on the same relays. Changing into two teams would be a big undertaking.
“I really felt like we had both the talent and depth to now become a varsity program,” explained head coach Nolan Silbernagel, “but that did not mean it was going to be an easy task. Everyone was going to have to give 100 percent effort.”
With eight boys and 19 girls, the Knights began their inaugural season against prep power Blair Academy. Remarkably, both squads came out with victories as the boys won 75-68 and the girls edged their opponent 82-81.
The momentum did not stop there for the girls. They would end up winning four more meets to close out the regular season with a 5-2 record with three of their wins decided by three or fewer points. Their impressive season continued as the girls qualified for the NJSIAA Non-Public B tournament in their first year of eligibility. The fifth-seeded Knights defeated eighth-seeded Gloucester Catholic 101-67 to advance to the quarter-finals where they ultimately fell to Villa Walsh 95-75.
The girls also had strong showings at championship meets, finishing 12th out of 18 teams at Conferences, ninth out of 12 teams at counties, and seventh out of 10 teams at Preps. Rebecca Michaels ’20 and Maddie Soultanian ’22 scored individually for the Knights at these meets.
“All of the girls did amazing this year,” said Silbernagel. “We had a large and talented freshman class come in and we had great leadership from a strong junior class and it led to unprecedented success. I had high goals for the girls, but they surpassed all expectations.”
Unfortunately the boys did not win another meet the rest of the year, but they remained competitive in all of their remaining dual meets and regularly won individual and relay races. They were rewarded for their fast swimming as they too earned a spot in the NJSIAA Non-Public B tournament as they claimed the eighth and final seed. Although the Knights fell 108-59 to Morristown-Beard in the opening round, Silbernagel was very proud of his team’s performance.
“For the boys to make the state tournament in their first year of eligibility is pretty unheard of,” he said. “I had officials come up to me before and after the meet and say they could not believe we made it with only eight boys and how impressed they were. It is something the swimmers should take great pride in.”
The boys rounded out their championship season by placing 13th out of 16 at conferences, 11th out of 12 at counties and tying for 12th out of 14 at Preps. Preston Reep ’19, Robert Brandl ’20, and Jonathan Osma ’20 all scored individually for the Knights.
While most teams struggle in their first season at the varsity level, Gill’s flourished and reached unprecedented levels of success. With 24 out of 27 swimmers returning, the program looks poised to continue to grow and improve in the future.
“I told the kids at the banquet that this season really proved that you should always follow your dreams and chase your goals,” said Silbernagel. “A lot of people told us to never change from co-ed because it would be too hard and we would not be able to compete; we ended up proving a lot of people wrong.”