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Former Molloy swimming star making a big splash at Marist

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — The thrill of winning is what got Matthew Castillo hooked on swimming eight years ago. And the Jamaica native hasn’t stopped since.

Two years after winning two city championships at Archbishop Molloy, Castillo continues to dominate at Marist College.

But unlike many other college swimmers, Castillo doesn’t limit himself to one or two events.

“Most recruits that come in are very limited in terms of how many events they compete in,” said Marist coach Larry VanWagner. “We can put him in any event with a championship format and he’ll be competitive in every one. He’s the most talented and versatile swimmer at Marist and in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.”

VanWagner has been the men’s swimming and diving coach at Marist for 23 years and has assembled one of the top mid-major programs in the country. The Red Foxes have won seven straight MAAC championships and finished second in the ECAC conference last year.

After hearing of the program’s prowess from Lenny Galluzzi, a coach at the Flushing YMCA, as well as the school’s academic reputation and scenic campus, Castillo made up his mind to attend Marist even before speaking with VanWagner.

“I had a lot of faith in Lenny and he told me it would be a good school for academic and swimming,” said Castillo, who won the city championship in the 100-yard freestyle, the 200-yard freestyle and set a CHSAA record in the 200-yard individual medley while at Molloy. “When I came here, it just sealed the deal.”

Castillo immediately burst on the scene at Marist, capping a tremendous freshman campaign by winning the MAAC championship in record time in the 200-yard individual medley (1:51.41). He also won the MAAC title in the 400 IM in 4:03.37 — the second fastest time in Marist history — and was part of school record-breaking relay times in the 800-yard freestyle (6:49.34), 200-yard medley (1:33.42) and the 400-yard medley (3:23.14).

“I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to perform under college pressure,” Castillo said. “But I just did my thing.”

“Even as a youngster he was a talented swimmer,” said Rich Finkelstein, the head swim coach at the Flushing Y. “Once he got into high school, he really started to come around and become more of an all-around swimmer. He got bigger and stronger and became more dedicated to what he wanted to accomplish.”

Castillo has picked up where he left off last year. He has won at least one event in every meet this year, helping lead Marist to an 11-1 record heading into the MAAC championships which start Thursday at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md.

At the Loyola Invitational, Castillo won the 200 free (1:46.01), the 200 butterfly (1:54.83) and the 200 IM (1:55.34). Against Fordham University, Castillo won the 200 free in a personal-best 1:42.16 while also finishing first in the 200 butterfly (1:54.54).

In Marist’s last regular season meet Feb. 8, Castillo won both the 200 free (1:43.38) and the 200 butterfly (1:57.07).

“I enjoy swimming here. It’s always a challenge,” Castillo said. “Every year there are freshmen challenging the older guys in practice.”

Following the MAAC and ECAC championships, VanWagner will work with Castillo through the summer in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. National Swimming Championships. And then, it’s on to the U.S. Olympic trials.

“Last year he wasn’t in a consistent training regimen,” VanWagner said. “He’s planning on changing that routine this time around. Matthew is going from a six-month swimmer to a 12-month swimmer.”

Added Finkelstein, “He can certainly become an NCAA qualifier, but I don’t put any limits on what he can do. He’s a hard worker and is knowledgeable about swimming. He knows what it takes.”

But Castillo doesn’t want to look past the MAAC championships.

“I usually don’t like to think about [qualifying for the U.S. National Swimming Championships],” he said. “I just want to work hard and have fun with my teammates.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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