By John Goralski
Coach Evan Tuttle has never been busier at a conference meet, but on Friday, Nov. 1 the Southington coach never had a chance to rest.
The Lady Knights sent wave after wave of swimmers across the water at Newington High School. Almost every heat of every relay had a Southington team battling in the pool. In many of the individual races there were two or three Lady Knights competing head-to-head.
In past years, the Knights have enjoyed one or two races with a handful of Southington swimmers. This fall, it’s become the norm.
“It’s exciting to see, especially in the relays and individual events,” said the Lady Knight coach. “A lot of our girls in relays and individuals were finishing first, sometimes first and second, in their heats. It really is a testament to how hard they’re working when you compare them to that level of swimmer on other teams. We’re doing well.”
Southington’s depth clearly had an effect on the overall results. Newington edged the Knights in their regular season meeting, and the two teams were engaged in another tight battle at the conference meet. With two events left Newington held a small lead, but a 1-3-4 finish in the 100 breaststroke tipped the scales in Southington’s direction.
Laurel Dean (1:11.42) battled from behind in the final lap to win the fastest heat. Aly Baribault (1:13.07) edged Marisa Matthews (1:13.28) for third place in the race, and Southington leapfrogged the host team with one race to go and held on for fourth place overall.
“I had the coach from Hall come up to me and tell me that we were a juggernaut in the breaststroke, and that’s the nice thing about the CCC West meet,” said Tuttle. “We were able to put in all three of our best performers and really show off our talent. In a dual meet, we’re only able to put one, maybe two, in that event. At championships, we were able to put in all three. They took 1-3-4 in that event, and I don’t think any other team went 1-3-4 in any other race at the meet. That says something.”
With the victory, Dean became the first Lady Knight to capture a conference title since Kristy Dougan won diving in 2007, but Dean came close to a second title with her second place finish in the 100 freestyle (57.45).
“That’s really something in the CCC West,” said Tuttle. “In terms of conferences, you would be hard-pressed to find a more competitive one. Certainly, it’s the toughest division in the CCC. In terms of other conferences across the state, it’s one of the most challenging. To finish first is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Dean wasn’t the only one battling at the front of the fastest heats. Marisa Matthews scored second place in the 50 freestyle (26.38) and fourth in the 100 breaststroke (1:13.28). Aly Baribault placed Third in the 100 breaststroke (1:13.07) and fourth in the 500 freestyle (5:43.76). Allison Schroeder finished sixth in the fastest heat of the 200 individual medley (2:32.77) and scored a top 10 finish in the backstroke (1:10.95).
Tuttle said that the meet has always been a good measure for the upcoming Class LL competition, and that has raised his expectations. Schroeder, Dean, Matthews, and Baribault combined for fifth place in the 200 medley relay (2:04.57). Matthews, Baribault, and Dean partnered with Kerry Buchanan to score fifth place in the 200 freestyle relay (1:50.74).
In both the individual and group events, Southington swimmers held their own against state-level competition.
“We’ve got Hall, Conard, Farmington, Berlin and Newington in our conference, and they are all good teams,” said Tuttle. “We’re the only Class LL teams, but when you look at Hall and Conard, they’re both going to be contenders at the Class L meet, and Farmington will as well. It was a good showing to come in fourth in such a good conference.”
The meet was the final chance for girls to secure postseason berths, and the Knights embraced the challenge. Bailey Potter captured a top 10 finish in the 200 freestyle (2:17.67), and her fifth place finish in the backstroke (1:08.47) qualified her for the upcoming Class LL championships. Others on the bubble improved their standings. Qualifiers will be posted on Tuesday night after The Observer goes to press, but Tuttle expects others to be joining the growing list of postseason swimmers.
“Bailey Potter dropped two more seconds in the backstroke to qualify for states, and that was huge,” said the coach. “Kerry Buchanan gave herself a good shot in the 200 free by posting her personal best time (2:14.71). Bethany Greenlaw swam well in the 100 breaststroke (1:20.36) once again to drop some time and give herself a chance to get in. I think they all improved their likelihood of getting in.”
The Class LL qualifying meet will be held on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at East Hartford High School. The finals will be held on Tuesday at Southern CT State University. For a full list of Southington qualifiers, visit www.ciacsports.com.
“We just don’t know how many of those maybes will get in, but we could be looking at one girl at least in every event,” said Tuttle. “In the past, we’ve had those one or two girls performing at states. Lately, we’ve been getting maybe four or five. It will depend on those girls on the bubble, but we might be sending six, seven, or eight. It’s pretty exciting.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.