By Zach Gewelb
The 2017 season is gearing up to be something special for the Cardozo girls’ swimming team. Fresh off a 7-4 campaign in 2016 that saw the team finish ranked seventh in the city, the Lady Judges have high expectations as the start of the fall season approaches.
“We could be city champs,” head coach Rick Amira said. “We’ve never been this close before. We have students who are top-ranked. We have one who is top-ranked in New York state in one of her events; we have a state qualifier from last year and I have about 10 club swimmers, which is very unexpected. I never knew I was going to get a group like this.”
The group of 29 is one on the rise and is led by senior captain Crystal Zhang, who has been one of the best swimmers in the city, according to Amira.
“She’s been a state qualifier for three years in a row, which means that she’s been invited up to Ithaca to be a part of the All-City swimming team,” Amira said. “She’s outstanding in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard butterfly, as well as the 100-yard backstroke. She’s one of the top swimmers in Queens.”
Zhang leads a team that consists of seven seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores and six freshmen. The group has a nice balance of upper- and under-classmen, which bodes well for the future of the program. More important, a majority of the team is experienced beyond their years, thanks to their participation in club swimming during the school’s offseason.
“It’s a tremendous help,” Amira said of the girls’ involvement with club swimming. “It’s very important because in order to get very good at swimming, you have to do it year-round. You can’t just do it for three months and expect to be good.”
Aside from Zhang, the team boasts top talent in sophomore Sophia Chu, who Amira says is a “rising star.” Her specialty is the breaststroke, a key event in high school competition.
Amira also recognized Katherine Arreaga, Kayla Roche, Melanie Ng, Priscilla Geraldo, Katherina Shen, Athena Dawson and Emily Mitts, along with the trio of incoming freshmen Germayne Chau, Alanna Chen and Vanessa Chong as key contributors.
“These three ninth-graders just got to Cardozo and they are outstanding swimmers,” Amira said.
With this kind of talent, Amira believes the sky is the limit for his team, and he has his eyes set on a potential record-breaking season.
“We have a very strong possibility of breaking the PSAL 400-yard freestyle relay record,” the veteran coach said. “We’re within one second of breaking the record if we swim our best times.”
Despite the caliber of talent the team boasts, Amira and the Lady Judges still have a difficult road ahead, due in part to the lack of a home pool in which to practice. The team currently practices at Bayside High School for about an hour and a half — after the Commodores practice. Cardozo spent the last few years practicing at Queensboro College, which became too expensive for the school to continue using.
“My biggest challenge has always been getting pools,” Amira said. “We don’t have a swimming pool. Van Buren doesn’t have a swimming pool. Townsend Harris doesn’t have a swimming pool. Northeast Queens needs a swimming pool. If we were able to build a pool of our own, that would be great.”
So while Amira and the Lady Judges continue their fight for a new pool on campus, the team will keep working hard in hopes of becoming the top team in the city. In order to do that, the Lady Judges will have to do something they haven’t done during Amira’s time with the program: beat Townsend Harris.
“We have never beaten Townsend Harris in the 26 years I’ve been with the team and we have a good chance to do that this year,” he said. “If we do that, people would really start to take notice of our team. I really think this year is finally the year we can do it.”
If everything goes right, this could be a special year for Cardozo.
“We will finally be looked at as one of the best teams in the city. Maybe the best,” Amira said.
The team is always looking for more members. Anyone interested in joining can contact Amira via phone at 516-526-1085, or email at Swimm
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe