By BRIAN JENNINGS
Since Evan Tuttle took over the girl’s swimming and diving team as head coach in 2010, the program has been gradually improving. Over the past two seasons, the Knights have had their best performances at the Class LL meet under Tuttle with back-to-back, top 10 finishes and four swimmers advancing to the state open.
Last fall marked Southington’s best regular season during Tuttle’s tenure with a 10-2 record (3-2 in division), finishing third in the CCC West. The Knights qualified 10 swimmers in 10 events at the state meet, advancing seven into the finals.
The success may be growing from season to season, but the Knights are coming into the 2015 season with some spots to fill. The team graduated 15 seniors from last year’s team, including Bailey Potter (Class LL finalist in 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay), Ashley Christensen (Class LL finalist in 400 freestyle), and Kristen Loose (Class LL finalist in 200 freestyle relay).
The Knights will also be without junior Marisa Matthews (Class LL finalist in 200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, and 100 breaststroke), who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
“Marisa has been a tremendous asset for this team since she first began her freshman year,” said Tuttle. “She is a two-time state open qualifier and is quite literally irreplaceable. We wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing her back in the pool in the future.”
Matthews qualified for the state open in the 100 breaststroke in 2014 and competed in the 50 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay in 2013 as a freshman. She also made the all-conference team in the 100 breaststroke (1.08.56) and holds the school record in the event as well.
“A great portion of last year’s success lay on the shoulders of a large and dedicated senior class,” said Tuttle. “Despite the loss of a very strong senior class, the Lady Knights season is bright. A strong and talented underclass is back and ready to keep working.”
Although the Knights have lost 15 swimmers, they are still 40 strong on the depth chart.
Senior Ally Schroeder (Class LL finalist in 200 medley relay, 100 backstroke, and 400 freestyle relay) is a crucial part of the team’s success and returns to the varsity lineup, not only as a top swimmer, but also as one the team looks up to. Exemplifying the characteristics of a leader, Schroeder was named as one of the team’s co-captains for the 2015 season.
“We are very fortunate on the Lady Knights swim and dive team to have many athletes that model what it means to be an exceptional student athlete, and Ally is no exception,” said Tuttle. “In fact, she has been modeling such behavior since she was a freshman and is a significant factor in showing others what it means to be your absolute best in all you do. She is an outstanding, young athlete, student, and leader.”
Senior Bethany Greenlaw will help Schroeder lead the Knights as the other co-captain.
“Bethany has been making all the right decisions and doing everything right for four years now,” said Tuttle. It was a common sense choice to have her lead this team as a captain with Ally. She exhibits all that a coach wants to see in a student athlete.”
The Knights are also welcoming back sophomore sensation Olivia Fournier (Class LL finalist in the 200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, and 200 freestyle relay), who made her presence known during her freshman year as a promising and upcoming talent. Fournier made the all-conference team in the 50 freestyle (25.14) and holds the school records in both the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle.
“Olivia is a rare talent in terms of natural ability and work ethic,” said Tuttle. “Even more rare is her perpetually positive attitude that motivates and inspires all of those around her. Regardless of your age or year in school, those are traits you wish to see emanated in all your athletes.”
Fournier will be joined by fellow sophomores Gina Calo, Kara Zazzaro, and Patricia Zajac. Other swimmers that have been working hard in the offseason, who are ready to make an impact on the team include juniors Kerry Buchanan (Class LL finalist in 500 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay), Evelyn Holbrook, Julia Mularczyk, Hannah Olsen, Jess Piotrowski, and Sam Sagnella.
“Kerry has been tireless in her efforts over her first two years with the team, and those efforts have paid off in, not only regular season success, but post season success as well,” said Tuttle. “Now an upperclassmen, we are excited to see the success continue. We also look forward to her leading the younger classes to their own successes.”
Tuttle said that one area of the pool where they will need to develop very rapidly is in diving. However, Tuttle will have some assistance.
“Once again, we have a very strong lineup in the swimming events, and a lot of depth in each of them,” said Tuttle. “Thankfully, we have a very talented diving coach, Jan Zagorski, who will be up for the task. Traditionally, it has been a source of adversity for our program that we are happy to meet head on.”
After the major realignment of the Central Connecticut Conference was announced in October of last year, the girl’s swimming divisions were reconstructed to the North and South Regions, with a Blue and White Division within each region.
Southington is in the White Division of the South Region, along with Berlin, Conard, Farmington, Hall, and Newington, while the Blue Division of the South Region has Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, Maloney/Platt, Middletown, Plainville. Over to the North Region, the Blue Division has East Catholic, East Hartford, E.O. Smith, Glastonbury, South Windsor, and Manchester, while the White Division has Fermi, Hartford Public/Bulkeley, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, and Windsor.
“We are happy to compete against any team within our schedule both in conference and out,” said Tuttle. “I believe that our conference will still be among the best in the state. We will work tirelessly day in and day out to improve, and will not settle for less than our best.”
Tuttle said that the keys to the season will to be better each day than the last.
“The girls and I have very high expectations for the team,” Tuttle expressed with sheer confidence. “That is an expectation that the team has earned over the past few years, as our depth of talent continues to grow. We have expectations as both individuals and a team, in terms of personal bests and state qualifications. We also have expectations as a team to win, but win in the right way, and if a setback comes, to lose in the right way as well.”