By BRIAN JENNINGS
The clipboards were out, and the stopwatches were ready to go. Mapped out times were written with ‘guess’-timated finishes. The race against Conard came as a surprise to most, but it would serve as a precursor to just how close the next meet would be.
The Southington Blue Knights boys swimming team continued onto round two of their tough slate against West Hartford schools. The Hall Warriors were next on the list, but the Knights came into Wednesday’s meet with a confidence that might not have been shown in previous years.
The 86-84 loss wasn’t decided until the final relay.
“The energy in this place was out of this world, not just from those that were in the pool, but from those that were on the deck as well,” said Southington coach Evan Tuttle. “The heart of this pool was pounding. It’s hard not to get excited for meets like that. Our kids thrived off of that.”
The Knights (7-2) started the much-anticipated meet off strong with first and second-place finishes in the 200 medley relay to go up, 10-4. Zack Blake, Matt Duszak, PJ Ramsey, and Nick Brazil took first with a time of 1:50.94.
From that race on, the Knights battled and went neck and neck with the Warriors all the way down to the final event.
“They went out fast in their IM (individual medley). So they surprised me in that event,” said Tuttle. “But in that same return, there were events where I’m sure their coaches were looking at their clipboard, wondering where our guys came from.”
A buzz filled the room that had both sides yelling and cheering their schools on from start to finish. The energy generated by the swimmers enveloped you, causing you to move in your seat as you watched the homestretch of every race.
Going into the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, Southington actually held a slim 82-74 lead. The Knights would come ever so close, finishing with their season best time to score third place in the event. Southington fell to the Warriors, 86-84, but the Knights finished the meet with six first-place times.
“A good meet is probably an understatement. For Hall to be able to take first and second in that last relay was a tremendous feat for them to finish that meet, to our dismay,” said Tuttle. “Every single event was a grind. That’s what makes this sport so exciting. The close finishes not only in the individual races, but in the meet total as well. All-around great competition today.”
Ramsey was a double winner in the 50 freestyle (23.93) and 100 fly (1:00.10). Kevin Corcoran (5:25.72) took first in the 500 freestyle. Blake (1:02.03) took first in the 100 backstroke. Brazil (1:08.40) took first in the 100 breaststroke.
Tuttle said he thought this team performed better in this meet compared to the last meet. The Knights finished with 15 best times against Hall, compared to two best times against Conard.
“At the end of the day it’s another loss, but that’s not really what truly speaks about this meet in comparison to last meet,” he said. “Last week we sort of let it just get away from us and that wasn’t the case this week. We did what it is we had to do and we were our best.”
Even though his team lost close meets to both West Hartford schools, Tuttle said there is a big difference between losses on your record and the way his Knights competed in both meets.
“They show fight and energy, but not just that. Our kids always do things the right way, and by that I mean they can choose to be poor sports, but they don’t. At every opportunity and every decision they make, they always make the right decision, and they carry themselves with a great deal of class and character,” said the coach. “For that, I am always proud.”
The Knights carried the momentum from their close matchup with the Warriors into their home meet against the Simsbury Trojans on Friday, Feb. 13. Momentum wasn’t all that they carried into the meet.
Friday’s meet was senior day and the Knights also carried pride and appreciation for their coach into their meet against the Trojans. Seniors Brazil (captain), Corcoran (captain), Duszak (captain), Mack Golos (captain), Flora Nardi, Jay Olan, Don Pringle, and Tim White were honored at the meet.
“On senior night, you have to give the credit to the seniors, not just because it’s meant to be their day, but because these kids have been putting in so much work for this team for the past four years. All I have to say is today is for the seniors and the kids just react to that. They know how hard they’ve worked. So they want to perform well and reward the seniors with a strong and dominant win.
With three events still to go, the Knights clinched the meet by the 100 backstroke, defeating the Trojans, 98-67, in a decisive victory. The Knights finished with nine first-place times.
The 200 medley relay team of Blake, Duszak, Brazil, and Ramsey took first with a time of 1:51.32. The 200 freestyle relay team of Brazil, Evan Bender, Blake, and Ramsey took first with a time of 1:40.93 The 400 free relay team of Corcoran, Austin Bull, Ben Wakefield, and Golos took first with a time of 3:52.60.
Golos (1:59.07) finished first in the 200 freestyle. Evan Bender was a double winner in the 200 individual medley (2:22.44) and 100 backstroke (1:02.71). Ramsey (24.09) won the 50 freestyle. Corcoran (1:02.65) won the 100 fly. Brazil (1:08.75) took first in the 100 breaststroke.
After this season, the Knights will be losing eight seniors. Tuttle said he believes that they have a core group of underclassmen coming up, performing as if they are already upperclassmen.
“Each of those seniors is absolutely vital to this program,” he said. “Four of those seniors are captains and you don’t become captain by accident or by chance. You become captain because you’ve earned it, not just with your hard work in the pool, but your character and your ability to lead a team.”
After the meet, Tuttle took a traditional, senior day dip into the pool with his entire team.
“Technically I was pushed, although I sort of just go with it,” he said. “That’s our senior meet tradition. As much as many would assume that it would be an unwelcomed event for me, I love it. I love getting in that pool. It’s a good opportunity for the kids to get me in the pool, maybe a little payback for some of the sets we do in practice. But it’s a staple of what we do on those last senior meets and it’s fun. It is a good time.”
Tuttle gathered his kids in the center of the pool and talked briefly with his Knights.
“I told the kids, ‘Your job today as it is everyday is to act in a way in which that makes not just me proud and you proud, but in particular today that makes our seniors proud.’ I told them that they were absolutely able to do that,” said the coach.
The Knights look to build momentum this week at NW Catholic as the postseason approaches.