CHESHIRE — There are four new head coaches on the area scholastic sports scene this fall.
One of them inherits a program riding a winning streak that stands at 75. The same program has won three straight state class championships and is a reigning State Open champion.
Hey, no pressure, Matt Traub.
Traub, 24, took charge of Cheshire girls swimming and diving just days before the preseason began. He assumes the mantle of a nationally renowned program that just graduated 13 seniors, eight of whom are now swimming in college.
And yet the Big Red well has hardly run dry. The Rams return a number of state-caliber competitors and aspirations remain high at Cheshire Community Pool.
Likewise at other area pools. Solid seasons are expected even if the bar might not match the height of Cheshire.
The other big shift on the 2021 girls swimming front is the return to in-person meets. Last season, the majority of events were held virtually. Opponents swam at their own pools and compared times.
The Meriden Co-op was an exception. With coach Ed Heath employing COVID protocols, the city squad was able to host meets, though attendance was strictly limited.
In contrast, the Southern Connecticut Conference was almost exclusively all-virtual.
“I look forward to a season with full, live in-person meets,” said Lyman Hall coach Donna Neary.
Said Heath: “I look forward to seeing parents in the stands and running live meets with no special protocols except wearing masks and social distancing.”
Given that swimming is an indoor sport, the CIAC is requiring masks to be worn except when the girls are in the water. No one seems to be getting hung up over it.
“Our swimmers and divers are looking forward to the opportunity to compete live — looking forward to displaying not just their talent, but their sportsmanship, their energy, team spirit and everything in between,” said Southington coach Evan Tuttle. “We are also cognizant of the fact that our live seasons are tenuous in nature and can disappear if we are not all exercising common sense and taking precautions with the best interest of the health and well-being of our athletes in mind.”
Here’s a look at the area teams as the season dawns. Sheehan opens Thursday at home against Hamden. Southington and Meriden go head to head Friday at Maloney. Lyman Hall and Cheshire start with home meets Tuesday.Cheshire
Matt Traub and his squad go into their season opener against Foran holding their traditional calling cards: talent and depth.
“We have a ton of key swimmers coming back,” said Traub. “Most of our (swimmers) have swum with the team in the past and they are all going to play a huge part this year, from first-place finishers to fourth- and fifth-place finishers.”
The Rams have bid farewell to the likes of State Open champion Sophie Murphy, who is now competing at Georgia Tech.
They look to extend their 75-meet win streak behind proven returners such as Avery Potyrala, Julianna Tyler and Julia Barto.
Potyrala, a junior, was All-State in four freestyle events last year (100, 200 and both relays). She swam on Cheshire’s Class LL champion 400 free relay in 2019 as a freshman.
Tyler, also a junior, was last year’s SCC butterfly champ. She was All-State in that event as well as in the SCC-champion 400 free relay.
Barto, only a sophomore, made a huge splash as a freshman by posting the state’s best time in the 200 IM (2:08.09) while winning the SCC title. She was All-State in the IM. She was All-State in the breastroke, 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay.
Cheshire’s returning core goes even deeper — Emma Grove, Sella Cahill, Grace Hanke and Emily Rivera. Contributions are expected from freshmen Carly Cahill, Julia Tejeda, Lauren Waitkus, Alicia Shatalov and Helen Baxter.
Lead diver Natalie DeMatteo has graduated, but the Rams are still well stocked in that event with Madelyn Forlenza, Hannah Tao, Julia Swartz, Zoë Goodrich and Ashley Jeon.
After going up to Class LL and winning that championship in 2019, the Rams are back in Class L for the state meets.
“Our goal as it stands right now is to start the year fresh with some good technique and a good culture,” said Traub.Sheehan
If there was an upside to the relative isolation of last season, it’s that it brought some teams closer together. The Titans fall under the catagory.
“Last year we were able to develop great work ethic and rapport,” said coach Dan Wostbrock. “This season we hope to build off of last season, continue to have fun, but also be competitive in both the SCC and Class S.”
The Titans will be led by co-captains Leila Sofiane and Katie Webb, along with fellow seniors Lili Nagy Leranth and Alanna Dwyer. The leading diver is junior Savanna Bauman, who is also a team captain.
Sofiane, last year’s SCC Division II champ in the 100 butterfly, is going on to swim at Sacred Heart University. Bauman was second in SCC Division II diving and fourth overall in the SCC.Lyman Hall
The girl to whom Savanna Bauman finished second in SCC Division II diving? Lyman Hall’s Alyssa Cervero, who earned All-SCC status as a senior by finishing third in the conference overall.
Cervero was the big graduation loss for the Trojans. They bring back a “Core 4” in senior captains Elena Bielesz and Caroline Krawec, junior Elise Richardson and sophomore Hailey Baker.
That quartet forms Lyman Hall’s All-State medley relay, which was SCC Division II champ and second overall in the SCC a year ago.
Individually, Richardson was All-State in the 50 freestyle. She was SCC Division II champ in that event as well as in the 100 free.
Krawec, a standout since her freshman year, won SCC Division II crowns in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley in 2020. She earned All-State in the breaststroke for a second straight year.
Joining the Core 4 are a “Freshman 4.” Samantha Jackson, Sophie Conte, Meredith Loughlin and Lucia Zito all arrive at LH with previous swimming experience.
“The girls are excited for the season,” said Coach Neary, whose team will swim in Class M come state meet time. “As always, I am looking for each athlete to accomplish their own personal goals while having fun and meeting new people.”Meriden
Amid the pandemic, the Meriden Co-op was one healthy squad last fall. Coach Ed Heath’s team won all but one of its six meets
Meriden graduated Hind Moumen and Samantha Morales-Barczs, but bring back everybody else, starting with seniors Avery Benigni, Katelyn Park and Emma Roderick.
Benigni won eight individual races in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, ultimately placing ninth in the CCC in the free and sixth conference-wide in the fly.
Juniors Madeline Fitzgerald and Alyssa Hernandez lead the returning underclassmen. So does sophomore Rylie Benigni, who as a freshman won seven distance freestyle events and swam legs on eight first-place relays.
Adding to the Meriden talent pool are first-year sophomore Jillian Consiglio and incoming freshman Sarah Kim.
“I look forward to a great season of swimming,” said Heath. “I have a good core of returning swimmers and some talented freshmen. I believe we should have a winning season and vie for the conference championships.”
In the state meets, Meriden will be in Class LL.Southington
The one team to beat Meriden last fall was Southington. The Meriden meet was also the one meet the Blue Knights swam in person.
It was a strong season for coach Evan Tuttle’s girls. They went 5-0, had 13 top-16 conference performances and had All-State honorees in swimmer Meghan Hammarlund and diver Kelly Perrotti.
Hammarlund, a school-record holder in multiple events, is now swimming at Sacred Heart. She is one of five 2020 Southington graduates now competing in college. Andie Nadeau is at Western New England, Maddie Symecko at Springfield, Adessa Noyes at Keene State and diver Lizy Beaulieu at Fairfield.
The top returners are still underclassmen: juniors Emma Jekubovich, Kendall Noonan, Alexis Strong and Thuy Tran along with sophomores Ella Nadeau, Julia Laszewski, Kyra Nguyen and Veronica Okurowski.
Ella Nadeau is quite a talent. Last year, as a freshman, she broke a 28-year-old school record in the 200 IM (2:14.38) and placed third in the CCC in the 500 freestyle.
Senior captains of this season’s squad are Jillian Christensen, Amela Dishnica, Sadie McPartland and Sam Seneco. The Blue Knights, per tradition, are in Class LL.
“We look to fulfill the Southington Athletics motto of “Chasing Excellence” by working tirelessly day in and day out to improve, and will not settle for less than our best,” Tuttle pledged. “Having overcome the added adversity of the 2020 season, the Lady Knights know to do well with what it is they control, to take advantage of opportunities and to enjoy the experience.”