FROM PRESS ROW: YEAR AFTER YEAR COLE WORKED TO REACH THE TOP OF THE H.S. SWIM WORLD
One year ago Cullin Cole was at the state championships, watching Corning’s Ryan McNutt win the state title in the 100 free.
Before that day was over Cole was already thinking about himself being on the top of the podium at states.
“That was the main thing I told him last year,” Cole said. “I told him after the meet I was bringing home one of the two, the 50 or 100, and we did our job and brought it home.”
A season ago Cole was fifth in the 50 free in 21.31. McNutt told him that day that he should aim high with his goals.
“Ryan McNutt told me last year, he said the sky is the limit, so I’m just going to keep going, keep plowing through and see what happens,” Cole said.
What happened on Saturday was the type of stuff they will be talking about for generations to come.
He won a state and federation title in the 50 free and then also became an automatic All-American.
After the prelims Cole sat second in the 50 free, just .05 off the lead. In the final he went out and swam a 20.51, winning the event by three tenths, a rather large number in a 50 state final. Cole became the first Horseheads state champion in swimming since Jeff Johnson in 1986 (the 50 free and 100 fly). Cole went out and led off the 200 free relay with a 20.44 as the first leg of the race. That time made Cole an automatic All-American. Cole is the first Horseheads All-American swimmer since Johnson in 1986.
For good measure, Cole went out and took fourth in the public school in the 100 free, breaking a school record that had stood since 1983.
“There are genuinely no words,” Horseheads coach Chris Bankaitis said. “That guy has worked so hard for it, all year and more. I am just absolutely speechless I’m so happy for him. It’s so big for the program.
“His name is going to be all over the wall, all over the record board at the pool and it’s going to be there forever, because people should know what he did. The work he put into it and the things he was able to do with the work he put in. He’s immensely cemented himself as an absolute pillar of the program.”
For Cole, a state title was the one thing he always wanted during his time at Horseheads.
“It’s very special, it’s something I’ll definitely always cherish, it’s very, very special for me.”
It was a magical way for Cole to wrap up his high school career.
“Definitely made me want to race harder, just the thought this is my last time swimming for Horseheads,” he said. “Swimming in blue, so I definitely wanted to put it in perspective this is the last time. I just went out there and tried my best and I succeeded.”
Since last year Cole has dropped nearly a second in a 50 meter race, going from the 21.31 time a year ago to an All-American time of 20.44 this year.
It’s improvement like that which Bankaitis has been seeing since Cole started swimming for the Blue Raiders in eighth grade.
“I remember, I have been coaching for five years, this is my first year was head coach,” Bankaitis said. “My first year was his first year on the team as well as a little eighth grader. I remember thinking should I put him in the B or A relay. From one year to the next he kept on making every single step up you can imagine from being an A finalist, to being a relay member, to being a state qualifier, to being a state title holder. He just did it every year on his own, with some help from us. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Over the past two years Cole has swam eight events at states. He has seven state medals, his only event he didn’t medal in, the 400 free relay this year where he helped the Blue Raiders break a school record and finish one spot off a state medal.
“It will definitely be something I will always cherish and something in history,” Cole said. “I’m feeling great. It’s definitely something that will go down in history and I’m very proud of it.”
While Cole has accomplished a lot the past five years, he has four more years at Binghamton University to try and get even faster.
“I’m thinking maybe next year 19 mid is doable,” Cole said of the 50 free. “Just got to keep pounding the weights, get a little bit better under water and see what happens.”
And, for Cole there are dreams of even more in the sport, like making the Olympic Trials, and maybe even Olympics one day.
“For sure, I believe it’s definitely doable,” Cole said.
And, after days like Saturday those dreams for the future become more and more realistic for the Horseheads star.
“Definitely makes me feel like I’m inching closer and closer and hopefully someday we get there,” Cole said.
PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES
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