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Watertown’s Netto hopes to nail down state swimming championship


Michael Netto has been growing out his fingernails in preparation for this weekend’s state boys swimming championships.

The Watertown High School senior is competing in four events during Friday and Saturday’s meet at Webster-Schroeder High School in Webster.

Netto is tied for the third seed in the 100-yard breaststroke along with two-time defending champion Gunther Cassell of Huntington. The top finishers may be separated by mere hundredths of a second, so Netto’s long fingernails are intended to help him finish faster.

“I don’t know if it has scientific backing or not,” said Netto, whose nails extend about a quarter inch longer than if they were trimmed. “But when I’m swimming I do feel the difference.”

Netto has been a state contender since his freshman year and is also competing in the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and the 200 individual medley. He qualified for the 50 freestyle but can compete in a maximum of four events.

Five of Netto’s teammates qualified for states, including sophomore Joey Ongkingco in the 100 butterfly and both relays. Ongkingco is recovering from a knee injury and will have to sit out this meet.

Contributing to Watertown’s relays are senior Brad McKinney, juniors Jacob Catalina and Jacob Roux, and sophomore Neal Ruparelia. McKinney and Ongkingco swam at states the last two seasons, and Ruparelia was a qualifier last year.

Netto is seeded sixth among public high schools in the 200 IM. Watertown’s 200 medley relay is seeded 11th, and the 200 free relay is ranked 17th among public schools.

Netto has been growing his fingernails prior to big races since he was in about eighth grade. Although it’s not a common practice among other swimmers he knows, his theory is that the longer nails provide his hands with more surface area and therefore generate more power on each pull. They will also give him a quarter-inch longer reach at the finish.

“It gives me a better feel for the water,” Netto said. “If it gives you that extra couple millimeters or centimeter to finish the race before the other person then I guess that’s just an added advantage.”

Netto is undeterred by the teasing he receives.

“People just think it’s weird,” Netto said. “They can’t really believe I’d go to that extent to drop that little bit of time.”

He’s also fielded many offers for manicures and to have his nails painted.

“I’ve had some people say they wish their nails were that long, that they wish they could paint my nails,” Netto said. “I’ve had quite a few of those.”

Netto doesn’t like how the nails feel outside of the pool and cuts them right after his last big meet of a season, sometimes in the hotel room before he even gets home.

The breaststroke is the most difficult stroke to perform correctly, but Netto adapted to it at an early age.

“Ever since I was probably four years old, something about the breaststroke was appealing to me,” Netto said. “I guess it was one of the easier strokes for me to swim.”

The stroke requires considerable upper body strength and the technique involves proper timing.

“A nice, fast breaststroke takes the most muscular endurance,” said first-year Watertown head coach Tom Graban. “It uses more muscles in the body than any of the other strokes.”

Netto says the breaststroke is typically unpopular among his peers.

“It’s not uncommon to hear people say, ‘I hate that stroke’ or ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘my timing’s off,’” Netto said.

The top two seeds in the breaststroke are Ben Cono of Smithtown at No. 1, followed by Liverpool’s Garrett Clarke, who beat Netto for the Section 3 title. Netto was seeded second in the breaststroke last year and finished eighth overall. Cono was fourth and Clarke fifth.

“It’s going to be a fun race with those top few guys,” Graban said.

Netto holds school and league records in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM and school records in all three relays. He is a two-time All-American in the breaststroke.

“Mike’s the hardest working athlete I’ve ever met,” said Watertown assistant coach Elizabeth Lewis. “I don’t think he’s ever skipped a yard during practice. He definitely earns his success.”

NOTES: Watertown captured its sixth Frontier League “A” Division championship and fifth-straight undefeated league season this year. … Everyone on the Watertown roster qualified for sectionals. … The Cyclones finished third at both the Section 3 Class A meet and Section 3 state qualifier. … Joey Ongkingco set school and league records in the 100 butterfly this season. ... Watertown and the two Immaculate Heart Central students who swim with the Cyclones received 39 all-stars this season (in every event except diving). … Tom Graban is a former Watertown swimmer and assisted former varsity coach Jeff Ginger the last six years. Ginger stepped away from coaching to work an administrative internship at the high school. He and his wife Brenna welcomed twin daughters Clara and Adele to their family on Dec. 18.

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