By JOHN GORALSKI
A small group of Southington swimmers burst out in giggles between races at the CT state open, and Marisa Matthews joined in the lighthearted laughter. At times, the Southington girls dragged Matthews into the halls of the Yale facility. At other times, they cheered the championship heats, but they never seemed to take their focus away from Matthews.
The Lady Knight contingent had just two goals at the championship meet: support Matthews at the state open and keep the pressure away from their sophomore star.
“They’re really great,” Matthews said. “They all came to support me, and that’s really nice. We’re a really close team.”
On Saturday, Nov. 15, Matthews was the last woman standing for the Lady Knights as she capped her autumn campaign with a top 20 finish at the championship meet. She didn’t come away with a medal, but for the fourth consecutive year at least one Lady Knight swimmer advanced to the prestigious final competition. For the second year in a row, Matthews was representing her team.
“I think it’s incredibly important,” said Lady Knight swimming coach Evan Tuttle. “As successful as our regular season was by going 10-2, this is something that I’m incredibly proud of. It shows that our program has come a long way.”
In fact, the Knights finished stronger than ever before. A few days earlier, the team competition came to an end as a wave of Southington swimmers clawed their way into the top 10 in the team standings at the Class LL finals.
With her fourth place finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.9) Matthews was the only one to medal and advance to the state open, but Southington swimmers managed to score five season-best times, including a new school record and a trio of top 10 finishes.
“To be in the top 10 for Class LL is such an accomplishment,” said Tuttle. “To jump up a few spots at the finals against some of the best teams in the state was great, and it comes from a couple of different things. We had some individuals performing at a high level and scoring top points, but it also comes from having such a large group of girls working their tails off and dropping their times. That’s what we’ve been able to do.”
Olivia Fournier capped her freshman season with a 16th place finish in the 50 freestyle (25.66) and a 12th place finish in the 100 freestyle (55.54). For the second straight competition, Fournier set a new school record in the 100 freestyle.
“She had an amazing season,” said Tuttle. “Even though her time wasn’t enough to get her to the open, it’s a good mark for an incredibly strong freshman year. In those sprint events, you’re talking about fractions of a second…She’s going to be hungry to come back next year.”
All three relays set their best times this season at the finals. Fournier and Matthews combined with Allie Schroeder and Ashley Christensen to post a 1:57.77 with a 9th place finish in the 200 medley relay and teamed with Kristen Loose and Bailey Potter to place ninth in the 200 freestyle relay (1:44.82).
Kerry Buchanan, Ashley Christensen, Schroeder, and Potter didn’t crack the top 10 in the 400 freestyle relay (4:00.74), but their 12th place finish was their fastest for the year.
“I’m proud of the girls,” said Tuttle, “and I’m excited to see where the next few seasons will take us.”
For Matthews, this was her second straight trip to the state opens in just two varsity seasons. Last year, she competed in the 50 freestyle. This year, her top 20 finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.82) will set the standard for next autumn’s run.
“We work so hard each and every year, and that’s what counts. The girls that come up keep getting better and better every year,” said Matthews. “My goal is to just place higher at opens and keep beating my time. I want to keep improving each season.”
So far, so good.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.
By JOHN GORALSKI