By BRIAN JENNINGS
Not surprisingly, it was another good year for the Lady Knight swimming and diving team. The program has been pretty consistent for a while now, in terms of success in the conference and qualifying swimmers for the state meet.
The program has also been consistent with pushing swimmers across each threshold into finals at the state meet. It’s no wonder why Southington was well represented at last year’s state open, qualifying at least one swimmer for the state open for the past four years now. Being represented by four swimmers in two individual events and a relay at last year’s state open was Southington’s greatest representation at the state open in years.
Although the Knights lost 17 swimmers to graduation after last season, which included three of the four legs of the 200 freestyle relay that competed at the state open, Southington coach Evan Tuttle said that he still thinks the program can make an even bigger splash at this year’s state open.
“We have a strong freshmen class coming in, and the numbers are back up,” the coach said. “We’re going to look to build on that success from last year and exceed it.”
About 41 girls filled the pool for Southington last year. With the arrival of a strong freshmen class this season, the numbers are at 40 with 16 new girls swimming and diving for the team.
As he sees it every season, Tuttle said that the team must possess a constant desire to improve, in order for the program to be as successful as it can be this season. That comes from a conscious effort from every swimmer in the pool that is striving to be better every day.
“Even if they come out of a meet with best times and outstanding swims, they have to know that there is still something more that they can do to improve for next time,” said Tuttle. “It’s really that type of mentality that is going to push good teams over the edge to being great teams.”
There isn’t one area of the pool that the Knights will be strongest in this season. The team will look to be well-rounded in all facets of the water.
“We have some very strong stroke-specific swimmers in there,” the coach said. “The backstroke and breaststroke will be strong. Of the odd events, the fly will probably be the one that we have to work with the most.”
Besides the 100 fly, the Knights will also be shallow in diving. That’s not to say that the Knights don’t have talented divers, but they just have two of them.
“It could put us at a disadvantage if we’re facing teams that have a full card of three divers,” said Tuttle. “But Jan Zagorski is probably one of the best diving coaches there is, and she’s going to get Alyssa (Aulbach) right back to where she left off last year and Lizzy (Beaulieu) into competition form real quick.”
Southington finished last year’s regular season at 8-2 overall (5-0 home, 3-2 away), garnering a 6-2 record in the CCC South Region and a 3-2 record in the CCC South White Division. In the postseason, the Knights placed third at the CCC championship and 12th at the state open. After advancing four swimmers in three events to the state open, the team tied for 32nd.
Key returners this season include seniors Gina Calo (freestyle/distance), Olivia Fournier (sprints/backstroke), and Patrycja Zajac (breaststroke); and sophomores Alyssa Aulbach (diver) and Anny Moquete (freestyle). Fournier and Zajac are the only all-conference swimmers returning. Calo, Fournier, senior Jessica Monte, senior Cheyanne Young, and Zajac were named as the team captains.
Fournier was the only Knight to represent Southington in the individual events at the state open, finishing 14th in the 50 freestyle and 18th in the 100 freestyle. Fournier also swam as a leg in the 200 freestyle relay, which took 19th.
“Liv’s single greatest asset is that which hasn’t changed and has stayed consistent,” the coach said. “That’s her tireless work ethic, and it’s been that way since day one of her freshman year.”
If there’s anything that has changed about Fournier, it’s her status as senior co-captain on the team. But that doesn’t change the fact that you can still find her at the head of her lane cranking out sets every day.
“She does not know the word quit or the words take it easy,” said Tuttle. “That’s what has propelled her to her dominance in this sport for the last three years and undoubtedly will be for her senior year as well.”
After missing last season to concentrate on softball, senior Kara Zazzaro (freestyle/distance) will be returning to the team this year. Also returning to the team is junior Julie Duszak (sprints/breaststroke), after she missed last season to concentrate on band. Freshman Elizabeth Beaulieu will complement Aulbach up on the board as the only other diver on the team.
After a new realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the West Division along with Berlin, Conard, Farmington, Hall, and Newington. Conard and Hall were the only schools that stood in the way of an undefeated season for Southington last year, which are two of the strongest teams in the conference.
“We fully expect them to be tough again this year,” the coach said. “Those meets came down to the wire, and we made them close. But we’ll see if we can flip the coin on them this year.”
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