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Junior wins two events as Gray Bees excel at county championships

Feb. 2, 2010

Giovanni Urquilla came to St. Benedict's three years ago expecting to play soccer.

Things, however, never materialize on the pitch for Urqullia, who, since his freshman year, began putting his sole focus on swimming.

Call it a blessing in disguise.

Urquilla, a junior, will leave next year as the most accomplished swimmer at St. Benedict's Prep since Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones began his rise to prominence at The Hive.

"It's really amazing," said Urquilla. "I wanted to do both (soccer and swimming) when I got here and didn't make the soccer team. That allowed me to concentrate just on swimming and definitely is the reason I'm where I'm at now."

The junior boosted his resume by becoming the first St. Benedict's swimmer to win a title in the Essex County Championships since Jones was a senior in 2002. Jones went on to star at North Carolina State before becoming an Olympic champion in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Urquilla drew a tremendous amount of inspiration from Jones when the alumnus returned to campus in the Fall of 2008, just shortly after winning his Gold Medal. Jones even took a dip in the school's pool with the swimmers and water polo team.

Urquilla, then a sophomore, challenged Jones to a mock race in the pool. He got an advantage of diving off the blocks while Jones stayed in the water and gave the up-and-coming Gray Bees star a lead of nearly half the length of the pool in the race to the other side. Urquilla was amazed at the power and speed as the Olympian sped passed the young swimmer as if he was just treading water.

"It was incredible," recalled Urquilla. "From that point on, I wanted to be able to go faster and hopefully someday go just as fast as him. It was amazing."

Urquilla has used Jones as his inspiration and drive since that day and even one-upped his Olympic hero last Saturday by doubling in the Essex County Championships. Jones didn't win any individual titles as a junior at St. Benedict's - albeit losing to a record-setter in Verona's Daryl Northrop in the 2001 county meet. Jones went on to shatter Northrup's record a year later in the 50-yard freestyle, a mark (21.17) that still stands today.

"Gio came down to the pool that first day and got in the water and immediately we knew we had a talented swimmer," said St. Benedict's coach Glenn Cassidy. "His freshman year he proved us right by establishing himself as an all-around swimmer and has improved dramatically over the (last two) years."

Urquilla won the 100-yard freestyle and breaststroke titles at the natatorium on the campus of Seton Hall University. He was seeded second to the freestyle and posted a winning time of 50.22, edging the top-seeded Christiano Quieroz (50.34) of Verona.

"It was really happy and surprised that I won the freestyle," said Urquilla, who posted a personal best time in the race. "I wasn't expecting it and to go out and win was a great feeling."

Urquilla came back later in the day to capture the 100-yard breaststroke by touching the wall in 1:05.12, which was more than two seconds faster than the second place finisher.

"He brought home our first gold medals since 2002 - that's a long drought," admitted Cassidy, who also coached Jones. "This is a huge accomplishment - he has reinvigorated this whole team. It is tremendously exciting to watch and be a part of Gio's progress and success."

Notes: Urquilla also helped two relay teams establish their best times this season at the county Championships. The 200-yard medley relay team, which consists of Charles Evans, Urquilla, Ian Brown and Courtney Mosley, finished 4th with a time of 1:48.98. The 200-yard freestyle relay team placed third by posting a 1:33.55 and included Evans, Kieran Lenahan, Urquilla and Mosley.

Mosley also placed third individually in the 50-yard freestyle with a personal best of: 22.87.

The Gray Bees placed fourth overall in the team standings with 120 1/2 points. But, more importantly, every single swimmer in Cassidy's arsenal posted a personal best time in at least one event.

"It really was a great day overall. What more could I ask for as a coach? It really was a day to treasure," said Cassidy. "But we have hard work ahead of us to continue this trend of improvement that we've seen this season as we head into the State Preps and Easterns."

The State prep Championships will be held Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Lawrenceville and the Eastern Stats Championship will be held Feb. 26-27 at LaSalle University in Pennsylvania.

"I am very proud of this entire team," added Cassidy, "and I look forward to the other surprises that they have in store."

--By Ron Jandoli
--Photos by Mike Scanlan


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