Constantine Buga knew he had to act fast.
The Northeast High School sophomore was swimming in the 500-yard freestyle event during the Public League championship last week, but he was also swimming in the 200-yard relay event immediately after the long-distance race.
He was asked if he wanted to sit the 500 out and swim something else, but he also knew he had a good chance to win it. But he knew he needed to get a little rest in between the races.
He made sure he got it.
Buga swam the individual event in 5:38.53, a full minute faster than anyone else in the race and five minutes faster than the final finisher, ensuring him some time to catch his breath and get ready for the next event.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to swim it as fast as I could to get done or if I wanted to conserve energy in the race and take my time, but still try to win,” said Buga, who lives near Welsh and the Boulevard. “I decided to give it everything I had and get a break that way. It worked, I was fine for the relay. I got enough time off between them. And I did pretty good (in the 500 free). I was happy with my time. Very happy.”
It was a good day for Buga, who moved to Philadelphia from Moldova, but the Vikings fell just short of winning the Public League championship.
Masterman won a tri-meet to bring home the Public League crown on Wednesday at Fels. Masterman 105, Northeast 101, Central 89. The Vikings had a chance to win, but three swimmers were disqualified for minor infractions. One DQ cost Northeast four points, and while it’s impossible to figure out what would have happened had they earned those points, it’s safe to say it would have been a close finish.
Also starring for the Vikings were Enes Mance and Max Zabigliuk, who won the 50 free and the 100 free, respectively.
But according to Northeast coach Jason Sweeney, the entire team has contributed to the success this year.
“Many of my swimmers are freshmen who never swam competitively before,” Sweeney said. “We spend a good amount of practice time teaching racing dives and flip-turns and new strokes such as the butterfly.
“My new swimmers have surpassed expectations. They have dropped times significantly and increased distances. Many have aggressively picked up new strokes that they have never performed before and have become competitive in the league. I can’t wait to see them become better as their swimming careers continue over the next few seasons.”
But they don’t have to look far to see their leader.
Buga doesn’t practice much with the Vikings. He spends his time working out with the Lower Moreland Swim Club, where he competes against top swimmers from around Southeastern Pennsylvania. But when he is around his teammates at Northeast, he helps them when he can.
“Swimming is hard, it’s hard to show people what to do, either you can do it or you can’t,” Buga said. “I try to give them advice and they can learn by watching, but it’s hard to teach people. But when I can help them, I always do.
“I’m usually here just for meets, I work out every day with Lower Moreland. They do much more advanced practices. At Northeast, (Coach Sweeney) is teaching people the basics, and they’re getting better. They’re getting better fast.”
According to Buga, every time his teammates take the pool, they show improvement.
“It’s a lot different, they’re better,” Buga said. “Today was tough because we were right there. They swam well. It’s hard because we had a chance to win, but I’m proud of them. They did well. We swam pretty well.”
Buga has big things ahead of him.
Next up is the district meet, where he’ll go against the best from the Catholic League. He’s a very talented swimmer, but the Catholic League has plenty of guys who are club swimmers, so he is looking forward to going against other top-notch athletes.
Last year he took ninth in the breaststroke, his main race, at districts. This year, he’s better and some very good swimmers graduated so the goal is to move up the leader board.
“There are some great swimmers in that race, I love going against better swimmers, so it will be challenging,” Buga said. “It’s good to go against great swimmers. I would love to win, but I’ll be happy just to move up. It’s good to go against the best.”
Buga hopes to keep working out with Lower Moreland, and believes that work will help him continue to shed time. He also has high hopes for the team going forward.
“Lower Moreland is great, one day we’ll do distance, the next day we’ll work on shorter distances,” Buga said. “That helps you drop time. I learn a lot from them.
“We have a really young team, so I think we could be really good next year. We could be back. We want to win the championship.”