By BRIAN JENNINGS
The number one goal of the Blue Knight swimming and diving team every year is to advance as many athletes to the state meet as possible. It never changes, but it also never gets old to Southington coach Evan Tuttle.
“Although the winter swim season is the longest season of any high school sport, we aim to make it as long as possible by advancing as far as possible,” the coach said. “We have a strong core group of student-athletes who have been working tirelessly in the offseason to make this season their best yet.”
Although he tied his highest mark of athletes qualified for the Class LL championship last year—sending nine athletes in 10 events—Tuttle said that he has even greater expectations for this season.
“We fully expect the kids that were at the state meet last year to be back and advance further,” said Tuttle. “We also want them to try and bring along as many of those newcomers as possible. As long as we can fill that void in the breaststroke, this is probably the most well-rounded team we’ve ever had.”
Southington finished last year’s regular season at 7-4 overall, placing third behind Farmington and Hall in the CCC South White with a 3-2 divisional record. The Knights entered the postseason by finishing as runner-up out of six teams behind Farmington at the CCC South White championship at the Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford.
Southington placed 13th out of 22 teams at the state meet at Wesleyan University in Middletown and then advanced a pair of relays to the state open at Yale University in New Haven, tying for 36th out of 54 teams.
Greenwich edged out Cheshire to claim their fourth-straight Class LL title and Pomperaug to capture their fourth-straight open title. Since 1971, the Cardinals have won 42 CIAC Class LL titles and 32 open titles.
“We had a very successful season last year, and that’s been building for many years now, in terms of numbers and depth,” the coach said. “Getting into that open meet in the relay was a big accomplishment.”
In order to advance even more athletes to this year’s state meet, Tuttle said that alot will depend on the leadership of the returning state finalists.
“Those who were there last year have to stay focused and can’t lose sight of the fact that competition around the state is going to get tougher every single year,” said Tuttle. “Those upperclassmen and veterans have to push those talented newcomers, so that we could get those kids across the threshold as well.”
The Knights lost 10 athletes to graduation, including Austin Bull, Steve Sokolowski, John Stevens, and Dariusz Zajac. Bull was one of the team’s top breaststrokers who competed in the 200 medley relay and 100 breaststroke at the state meet and the 200 medley relay at the open. Bull finished his senior campaign as a 1:01-breaststroker, which was the fastest breaststroker that the team has had in over a decade.
Sokolowski and Stevens were legs in the 200 freestyle relay at the state meet. Stevens was the team’s second-best breaststroker next to Bull. Zajac was a Class LL finalist as a leg in the 200 freestyle relay.
On the other hand, the Knights are returning more postseason experience than they are losing with 19 swimmers and three divers. Those keys swimmers include seniors Zack Blake, PJ Ramsey, and Jonathan Symecko; juniors Evan Bender, Brendon Egan, Quintin Kimmel, and Ben Wakefield; and sophomore Julie Duszak.
“Returning the vast majority of last year’s state team is certainly going to be an advantage for us,” the coach said. “Those are kids not just with a tremendous amount of swimming and diving experience, but swimming and diving experience at the postseason level.”
Blake (200 freestyle, 100 freestyle), Egan (100 backstroke), and Ramsey (50 freestyle, 100 fly) competed at the state meet and moved on to the open where they each swam as legs in the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay.
Wakefield swam as leg in the 200 freestyle relay at the state meet and 400 freestyle relay at the state meet and open. Bender (200 freestyle relay) competed at the state meet as well.
Divers include senior Victoria Duszak; and sophomores Chase Galayda and Kian Siadat. All three divers competed at the conference championship, but Galayda advanced to the state meet where he dove for 18th out of 29 divers.
Freshmen Ben Ragozzine and EJ Suski will also be diving for Southington this season, making it the first time in Tuttle’s tenure that the program competed with five divers.
Blake, Victoria Duszak, Ramsey, and Symecko have been named as team captains to lead Southington this season. Victoria Duszak is the program’s first-ever female co-captain under Tuttle’s tenure.
“Those four individuals have been devoted to this program since they set foot on this pool deck as freshmen,” said Tuttle.
Kimmel will look to add distance to Southington’s roster this season after swimming in the 500 freestyle at last year’s Class LL trials. Julie Duszak will look to replace Bull and Stevens as the team’s third-best breaststroker last year.
Since he has taken over the swimming and diving programs at Southington, Tuttle has never had trouble filling the pool, and this season is a prime example of that. The Knights added nearly 20 new athletes, all of which are expected to make an impact.
“I don’t think it’s so much me,” the coach said. “I think it’s more the kids that are involved in the program. They’re outstanding student-athletes. That’s an attractive thing, in terms of other athletes that are looking to get involved with the program. That’s a credit to the kids that have been involved with this program for years.”
Those whose presence will be felt immediately are freshmen Ryan Asido, Brian Egan, Tyler Heidgerd, and Derek Melanson.
“We have very high expectations for ourselves this year because of that strong returning class,” said Tuttle. “But we have a pretty solid incoming class as well that’s going to complement those veterans nicely.”
Tuttle is entering his seventh year as head coach of the program.
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