The pool was full with very little room to share from lane to lane. Whether they’ve been swimming since they were a youngster or were just starting, the makeup of the Lady Knight swimming and diving team consisted of veteran and novice swimmers, which never seems to get old to Southington coach Evan Tuttle.
“That’s where I think we really have an advantage,” the coach said. “The concept of depth is something that this team has always had, and we do again this year.”
Surely, the strength of the Knights comes from the sheer number of athletes drawn to the pool every year, especially those who step on the blocks to compete for the first time. But Tuttle said that the team grows stronger as every athlete grows from the very first practice to the very last postseason meet.
“Novice swimmers work day in and day out throughout the year,” said Tuttle. “By the end of the year, they’re pushing for those state-qualifying times and securing relay victories. They’re really a part of what makes this team so special. We’ve been building that tradition for years now.”
The Knights finished the 2015 regular season with an overall record of 8-2 and placed third (3-2) in the CCC South White. The Knights qualified 16 swimmers in 11 events for the conference meet, placing third behind Hall and Conard with three individual conference champions and one runner-up.
The Knights qualified eight swimmers in seven events for the Class LL championship and placed 14th. The team then advanced four swimmers, one individual event and a relay, to the state open and tied for 36th with East Catholic.
The Knights lost nine swimmers to graduation, but last year’s team qualified for more events at the state open than the year prior and continued to break school records, returning a roster of about 40 girls for the second-straight year. According to Tuttle, all were signs of better things to come for the program.
“We had so much success the year prior, setting three school records and advancing to the state open, which I thought would be tough to top,” the coach said. “But we were able to do so again last year. I’m anticipating just as much success this year. Hopefully, we can surpass those expectations, just like we had last year.”
Graduating a strong senior class each year is certainly the sign of a strong program, and the Knights have been fortunate to do so for several years now. But Tuttle said that the plan never changes in preparation of the season.
“We try to hit best marks and improve every day,” said Tuttle. “Even if we swim an ideal meet, there’s always going to be points of improvement. We have to try to be better each day than we were the day before. And if we’re able to do that, then we will undoubtedly meet and exceed those goals by the end of the season.”
Identifying areas of growth and adjusting to those changes every day is what Tuttle said Southington swimmers will be focusing on, individually, throughout the season.
“In the beginning of the season, you always have to crank up that conditioning,” the coach said. “It certainly takes a while to get into a mid-season form, but tapering in the second half of the season is a whole different beast. Right now, we’re working on yardage and trying to fine-tune some strokes so that we’re swimming efficiently.”
Traditionally, Tuttle selects team captains himself without the aid of any other opinions. But this year, he switched things up with a new application process, which required seniors to submit essays of their three recommendations for team captain before the coach made his picks. Senior co-captains Kerry Buchanan, Katie Estell, Evelyn Holbrook, and Hannah Olsen survived the ordeal.
“I expect them to lead in every aspect of the word ‘captain,’” said Tuttle. “Those are four of our stronger swimmers and are outstanding athletes. They are well-involved in the community and school and are humble with very level heads on their shoulders.”
Buchanan is one of two all-conference swimmers returning who finished as a runner-up in the 500 freestyle at the conference meet. Buchanan was also a leg in the 200 freestyle relay at the state meet, as well as a leg in the 400 freestyle relay at the state meet and state open.
“I expect Katie Estell to step up in the breaststroke in her senior campaign,” the coach said. “She had a strong closing of her junior year in the breaststroke. I see Hannah Olsen in the sprint events and Evelyn Holbrook in the backstroke and mid-distance events. Kerry Buchanan, as we know, will be in those distance events.”
Other returning seniors include Abby Alfieri, Jade Cassidy, Juliana Ferreri, Laura Furtak, Kailey Hinckley, Samantha Martins, Sarah Mirisola, Julia Mularczyk, Jillian Noli, Madison Osakowicz, Jessica Piotrowski, and Samantha Sagnella. Sagnella was a leg in the 200 medley relay at the state meet and has been the team’s top swimmer in the 100 fly for the past three years. Osakowicz returns to the board as a diver for the Knights.
Returning juniors include Madison Beaudoin, Gina Calo, Isabella DiFusco, Olivia Fournier, Jessica Monte, Cheyanne Young, and Patrycja Zajac.
Fournier is the other all-conference swimmer returning as the conference champion in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. At the state meet, she earned the team’s highest mark with a fourth-place finish in the 100 freestyle, breaking her own school record (53.56). She continued to smash barriers by breaking a 28-year-old school record (1:59.57) from 1987 with a 12th-place finish in the 200 freestyle.
Fournier served as a leg in the 200 and 400 freestyle relay at the state meet, going on to represent Southington in the school’s lone individual event in the 100 freestyle (14th) at the state open. She was also a leg in the 400 freestyle relay at the open as well.
Tuttle is entering his seventh year as head coach of the varsity program.