By JOHN GORALSKI
There must have been someone in the crowd that believed the Blue Knight swimmers didn’t belong at last year’s state open championship. After all, it took another team dropping out just to open up a spot for the Southington alternates.
What they must have been thinking when Southington’s first swimmer stepped to the blocks…How silly they must have felt when the Knights began to pull away…
“It took the Platt-Maloney relay to drop out just to get in, but we ended up picking up eight places at the opens,” said Blue Knight swim coach Evan Tuttle. “It was fun to finish on that high note after another winning record and another good performance in our conference.”
Last winter was another banner year for the Southington swimmers. They survived a regular season schedule that was littered with top competition only to surge to third place in their powerhouse conference at the CCC West finale. Southington athletes set 28 personal bests at the conference meet, and that kicked off a surge that carried into the state open.
Now, the Knights are ready to do it again, despite the loss of 12 veteran swimmers to graduation.
“The expectations that our upperclassmen set for each team really carries over from year to year,” said Tuttle. “Last year’s senior class set the standard for excellence, and that certainly carried over to this senior class. We’re trying not to skip a beat here.”
This year, when the Knights reach the opens, there will be no doubters in the crowd. After all, this season’s team might be the most versatile in program history. Up and down the lineup, the Knights have depth and experience. The biggest problem for Tuttle might be choosing his lineup for opening day.
“We just had the Bulkeley Relays on Friday before we left for Christmas break,” said Tuttle. “Even though we have a smaller team that we have in past years with 32 swimmers, the depth on this team is pretty strong. At the Bulkeley relays, we had our A-relays—if they didn’t finish first—placing second. Our B-relays finished ahead of many team’s A-relays. We have talent up and down the lineup.”
It helps to have four senior captains with experience in almost every event. Matt Duszak is a three-time Class LL finalist in the breaststroke. Nick Brazil is one of the team’s fastest sprinters and a challenge for Duszak in the breaststroke. Mack Golos is a distance star and a threat in the backstroke. Kevin Corcoran is a dominant swimmer in the butterfly.
“Ever since their freshmen years, they’ve been the heart and soul of this team,” said Tuttle. “That’s been a real trend in our captains. We like to pick leaders on our team, not just as seniors, but the ones that led every year that they’re here. Not only are they leaders, but they are also some of our stronger swimmers.”
But even the captains will have to battle for their lives if they are going to keep their top spot in the roster. That’s how strong this Southington lineup can be.
Swim coaches are happy when their top guys can dominate a race or two. Southington has swimmers that are just as strong in four events…or more.
“The 200 individual medley is a void for many teams because you really don’t have enough swimmers that can perform all four of those strokes, but this year I’ve got plenty of options,” said the coach. “Because I have plenty of options in the IM, that means that I have plenty of options in the odd strokes and the freestyle sprints.”
Brazil, as a member of that 200 freestyle relay last winter, will be the frontrunner in the sprints at the start of the season, but PJ Ramsey, Zack Blake, and a host of other hopefuls were right on his heels at the Bulkeley Relays.
Golos will anchor the distance crew, but Austin Bull and Blake can vie for that top spot. Evan Bender will pose a threat to Golos and Blake in the backstroke. Corcoran will feel the pressure from Ramsey, Derek Zajac, and Don Pringle in the butterfly. Even in the breaststroke, the Knights have Duszak, Brazil, Bull, and countless others.
“We can put almost anybody in any event. Really. We just have so many kids in each event, and that’s going to be repeated when you ask me about any event,” said Tuttle. “That’s something that we really haven’t been able to do in the past.”
Even at diving, the Knights will have some depth. Victoria Duszak, Katrina Furgalack, Flora Nardi, and Kamil Kuziora will give Southington a chance to score at away meets.
“Victoria is returning from last year, and she’s been working in the offseason,” said Tuttle. “She’ll be solid, and I have plenty of confidence that the others will be ready for meets. I think it should be a pretty solid event for us.”
It won’t be easy. Southington’s regular season schedule unfolds like a Who’s Who of high school swimming in central Connecticut. Tuttle said that the focus will never go further than the next competition, and he expects the Knights to be ready to go when the postseason finally comes.
“Our conference is as strong it’s ever been, and we’re happy to be in there to compete against those top programs. In my opinion, we belong in that mix. Every meet is going to exist in its own vacuum, and we’ll take them one meet at a time,” he said. “We’re going to try to make our season as long as possible. That means we want to make it to the final stop, and that’s the state open. It took some exceptional scenarios last year, and we proved in our performance that we belonged there. That’s our goal again this year.”
Home meets might be a little more difficult as renovations get underway at the Southington YMCA pool. Walls will be blown out to make room for observation decks. Temporary walls will crowd the space around the pool, but Tuttle said that his team is no stranger to obstacles.
“In the long run it’s going to be so great to have those observation decks here, so I’m excited for the work to be finished,” said the coach. “It will be a temporary obstacle that we’ll have to overcome. The pool won’t be affected, but the deck space will. Our team is no stranger to overcoming adversity, so this is just one more thing that we’ll overcome.”
State open, here we come…