By JOHN GORALSKI
Ally Schroeder cut almost five seconds off her personal best in the 200 individual medley to claw her way into the top 30. In her final race, she climbed over eight swimmers and dropped her time by almost three seconds to break into the top 20 in the 100 backstroke.
That’s the kind of effort that Coach Evan Tuttle was looking for at the Class LL qualifying meet in East Hartford. Sure, Schroeder will only advance to the finals in one of her two individual events, but she started the day as a longshot in both races.
“I can’t say enough about her efforts,” said Tuttle. “She was on the outside looking in at the start of the meet, but she got back to finals. Her times didn’t get her into the championship heats, but to get down to where she is and back into finals was a great testament to the hard work she’s been putting in all year.”
The Lady Knights opened the state competition on Saturday, Nov. 8, and they took the competition by storm. Southington swimmers set a pair of school records with two individuals battling into a medal heat. Every relay advanced to the finals, and at least five individuals have earned a chance to compete at the finals.
“I am pleased, but it’s not really a mystery,” said Tuttle. “You go in with the anticipation of being the best you can be. Some performed better than others, but overall everybody was able to do a good job.”
For the second year in a row, Marissa Matthews battled her way into the medal round. The sophomore advanced to the finals with her time in the 50 freestyle (25.89), but she enters the final meet with the third best seed time in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.56). Her finish in the breaststroke broke the previous school record, set last year by Laurel Dean.
“That was one of the better races that we saw out of anybody,” said Tuttle. “She came in at a 1:11 but she dropped almost three seconds off her time. It was incredible.”
Joining her in the medal round is Olivia Fournier. The freshman leapfrogged over two other qualifiers to get into the top eight in the 50 freestyle and enters the final as the No. 6 seed. Her time (25.44) broke the previous school record. Only one other freshman finished ahead of her, and that’s a good sign of things to come.
Fournier also advance in the 100 freestyle as the 12th seed (55.77).
“This was a great showing at her first high school state meet,” said Tuttle. “She finished third or fourth in her heat, but she was sitting in lane six. It’s always difficult to swim on the outside. You can’t see the girls in the middle, and those are the ones that are usually seeded the highest with the fastest times. If we can get her off the blocks a little faster, she’ll do even better at the finals.”
To advance to the finals, swimmers and relays need to finish in the top 24 at the qualifying meet, but only the top eight are eligible for medals at the finals. On the other hand, everyone is battling for a state open berth no matter which heat they are competing in.
Shroeder advanced as the 20th seed in the 100 backstroke (1:04.57), and two others claimed the 25th position for a chance to compete in the finals as first alternates. Kerry Buchanan (5:47.01) is first alternate in the 500 freestyle. Ashley Christensen (1:15.93) is first alternate in the 100 breaststroke.
“We want to give ourselves the best chance we can to get back to opens on Saturday,” said Tuttle. “This was a great first step at the qualifying meet. Now, we have to continue that momentum on Wednesday.”
In addition, the Knights will send all three relays into the second fastest heats at finals. Schroeder partnered with Bethany Greenlaw, Sam Sagnella, and Hannah Olsen for 12th place in the 200 medley relay (2:03.84). Buchanan and Christensen teamed up with Kristen Loose and Bailey Potter for 13th place in the 400 freestyle relay.
The 200 freestyle relay finished just outside the medal round with a ninth place finish at the qualifying meet. Matthews and Fournier paired with Loose and Buchanan (1:46.22), and Tuttle expects them to have a good chance to advance to the state open..
“We knew going into states that our 200 freestyle relay was our best opportunity at advancing into the state opens, and it still is,” said Tuttle, “But the results from the qualifying meets in four different classes show that it’s a really fast year in the state. We’re going to try to put ourselves in the best possible position to advance. It just might take a faster time than we anticipated.”
The finals are scheduled for Wednesday at Wesleyan University, and the top 24 performances across all four Class finals will earn a berth at the state open championships. State open competition is schedule for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kiputh pool on the campus of Yale University in New Haven.
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By JOHN GORALSKI