Swimmers battle into the state open

Austin Bull cuts through the water during the breaststroke competition at the Class LL final meet. Bull was a member of one of the two Southington relays to advance, and he qualified as an alternate for the state open championship.

Austin Bull cuts through the water during the breaststroke competition at the Class LL final meet. Bull was a member of one of the two Southington relays to advance, and he qualified as an alternate for the state open championship.

By BRIAN JENNINGS
STAFF WRITER

With two relays and an alternate at the state open championship and a diver that clawed his way to the Class LL finals, the Blue Knight swimming and diving team rallied for one of their best winters under Coach Evan Tuttle.

When he took over the the boys swimming and diving program back in 2011, Tuttle saw nine swimmers advance to the Class LL finals with four events represented at the state open. In 2012, the Knights did it again.

After a three-season drought, the Knights are back on top. Swimmers were the last ones standing this winter, tying a recent record with nine swimmers at the Class LL finals and pushing two relays into the state open.

The tides are starting to change though, and the Knights showed signs of that change throughout the postseason.

On Wednesday, the Knights finished the team competition at the Class LL finals at Wesleyan University in Middletown.

Southington placed 13th with 154 team points out of 22 schools at the Class LL swimming finals.

Greenwich (787) took home it’s 40th Class LL title, edging out Cheshire (600) by almost 200 points. Fairfield Prep finished third (523.5).

Brandon Egan swims the 100 backstroke at the Class LL finals.

Brandon Egan swims the 100 backstroke at the Class LL finals.

For the Knights, the 200 medley relay team advanced to the open by taking 11th (1:43.22) and dropping almost two seconds off of their seeded. The 400 freestyle relay team began their journey with an 11th-place finish as well, cutting almost a second off of their seeded time. And after leaping 15 places the previous week at the preliminaries, Bull placed 13th with a best time (1:01.93) in the 100 breaststroke, qualifying as an alternate for the state open and missing the school record by seven tenths of a second.

“We performed well today,” said Tuttle. “I asked a lot of the kids. Obviously it’s a much quicker meet today, running eight lanes with only three heats of everything. They didn’t have much rest, so I was asking a lot of them, but them performed exceptionally well.”

Although they tied 2011’s Class LL mark of nine swimmers, this still was a record-breaking meet for the Knights. The Knights advanced the most swimmers they ever have to the Class LL finals under Tuttle, having at least one swimmer in every event except the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle.

The Knight were far from finished with two relays and an alternate at the state open on Saturday. Southington scored 16 points as a team and tied for 36th with Shepaug Valley and Bethel out of 54 schools at the state open at Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University.

Greenwich (576.5) outdistanced themselves from runner-up Pomperaug (371.5) by 205 points. Cheshire (359.5) followed in third.

The Knights entered Saturday’s meet with a big gap in their schedule, competing in the first meet of the open, as well as the last. But having so much time in between did not make the Knights weary, explained Tuttle. If anything, it benefited them.

“Overall, they were excited to be there and watch the meet,” said Tuttle. “The time, I’m sure was flying by rather quickly.”

While they were waiting after the initial event, the Knights were able to get some work done in between as well.

“They were in and out of the pool for those warm-ups, but they had plenty of rest going into that 400 free relay,” the coach said. “At the finals, we had a couple kids coming right out of events with limited rest. That helped explain the second drop in the 400 free relay. They were so involved in the meet from beginning to end that they really didn’t have an opportunity to get restless and be bored.”

Zack Blake, PJ Ramsey, Ben Wakefield, and Brendon Egan achieved a best time (3:23.75) and moved up two places to 21st in the 400 freestyle relay, dropping almost a full second off of their seeded time.

“They did have some rest, but it’s basically the last race of the season,” said Tuttle. “You have nothing left to lose and you leave it all out on the water, as we always like to say. And I think they did exactly that.”

Ramsey swam the team’s fastest splits of 23.61 and 26.85 to finish with a leg of 50.46. Blake trailed behind with a leg of 50.73.

“He [Ramsey] maintained and grew our lead,” the Southington coach said. “Ben [Wakefield] had a best time with a 51-mid, which is great to see out of that sophomore. We closed it out with another sophomore {Egan] going a 51-mid as well. The beautiful thing about that relay is that all four are coming back. So that’s only getting faster.”

Austin Bull teamed up with Egan, Ramsey, and Blake to also jump up two spots to 21st (1:43.52) in the 200 medley relay. Blake swam the team’s fastest split in the 50 freestyle portion of the relay with a 22.66, followed by Ramsey with a 25.45 in the fly. Egan backstroked a 26.3 and Bull breasted a 29.11.

“He[Egan]started us off strong in the backstroke,” said Tuttle. “He was first, if not second, into the wall in our heat to get us a good lead. Austin Bull in the breaststroke was able to put in a strong split and hold that lead together. PJ did the same thing in the fly. Zack closed it out with another 22-mid split in the 50 freestyle.”

Although the Knights added 0.3 seconds to their seeded time, Tuttle said that they still took into consideration the fact that they picked up a spot in their heat and jumped over a couple relays in the next heat.

“It’s certainly another step in the right direction for the program, especially with the number of returning athletes we have coming back,” the coach said. “It certainly is a boost for the program coming in as well, to see the amount of success these kids are having. Word gets around quick. The buzz of the program is growing.”

The state open marked the end of the winter campaign. The Knights will be losing the following 10 seniors to graduation after this season: Andrew Ackerman, Austin Bull, Julian Figueiroa, Katie Furgalack, Andrew Rogalski, Dom Rossi, Justin Sliker, Steve Sokolowski, John Stevens, and Dariusz Zajac.

On the other side, the Knights have nine juniors, 10 sophomores, and eight freshmen returning to the team next season.

Tuttle said that his seniors have done the groundwork for four years now and have left a good example for the underclassmen, showing them what it’s going to take to move the program forward.

“I’m very proud of these young student athletes and the work they do in the pool, school, and in the community,” the Knights coach said.

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