By BRIAN JENNINGS
The 14 swims and 13 athletes that represented Southington at last year’s Class LL championship were the most that represented the school at the state meet during Evan Tuttle’s tenure as head coach of the program, tying the most events with 10. Four were divers, the biggest group of experience acrobats during Tuttle’s tenure.
In fact, Southington was only one of three teams in the entire state to qualify a full card of divers. That’s the biggest thought on the coach’s mind as the winter season approaches.
“It was a well-rounded team last year,” said Tuttle. “We had a lot of athletes in a lot of events, and we fully expect to be back there again this year.”
Southington cracked the top-ten at the state meet just twice with back-to-back ninth-place finishes in his first two years as head coach of the program. Southington had never been closer to those ninth-place finishes than last season when the Blue Knights placed 11th. Can they do it during a rebuilding year?
According to Tuttle, that’s just business as usual.
The team is returning a high level of postseason experience from last year’s squad, along with numerous underclassmen that garner a budding potential. Those are some of the main ingredients that provide for a possible run at the top-ten in this year’s state meet, which is why Tuttle said he thinks they can.
“You have to have a lot of athletes there, and you have to get some of the athletes into the championship heats,” said Tuttle. “We had a lot of athletes in the B and C heats. We just have to crack into the championship heats because those are where the big points are.”
Bringing back an extensive amount of postseason experience form last season means that the Knights are going to have much of the same strengths from last year: strength in numbers. Tuttle said that he can’t single out just one event that he thinks the team is strongest in because they’re well-rounded and strong in all of them.
“We’re going to be able to roll out not just a strong A relay, but strong A and B relays,” said Tuttle. “We’re going to be able to fight for points in lanes one through six.”
The Knights finished last year’s regular season undefeated at 11-0 overall (5-0 home, 6-0 away), going 8-0 in the CCC South Region and 5-0 in the CCC South White Division. They carried the momentum from their undefeated regular season into the postseason by placing first at the CCC South White championship, advancing their 200 freestyle relay to the state open.
According to Tuttle, the team was able to achieve one of its long-term goals last season, and that was to add 2017 to the conference champion banner in the gym. It’s something that the program has been working towards for many years now, and it finally came in fruition last season with the compliments of a strong freshman class and a veteran senior class that had been pivotal in building the program to the prominence that it’s at now.
“That has proven, not only to others, but to ourselves as well, that we are a team to beat,” said Tuttle. “We’re a team that’s going to compete against anyone.”
The Knights lost 10 athletes to graduation after last season, including three all-conference swimmers. Five of those 10 athletes competed at last year’s state meet, including one diver, while two swam as legs in the 200 freestyle relay at the state open.
Returning seniors for the upcoming season include Evan Bender (100 backstroke, 200 individual medley, sprints), Rachel DePonte (freestyle, 100 fly), Brendon Egan (200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke, 100 fly, freestyle, 100 backstroke), Jacob Holbrook (100 fly, freestyle), Kristian Izydorczak (freestyle, relays), Quintin Kimmel (distance, freestyle), and Benjamin Wakefield (100 fly). Bender and Egan were both all-conference last season.
Bender swam in the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay at last year’s state meet and also swam as a leg in the 200 freestyle relay at the state open. Tuttle said that Bender is going to be a pivotal part of any relay for the upcoming season, and he expects for him to be qualified in individual events at the state meet as well.
“He’s one of our captains, and as a four-year swimmer, he’s earned that position of captain of always doing the right thing for the last four years and leading by example,” said Tuttle. “Those intangible things are a value on this team as well, and he’s going to be demonstrating them.”
Egan swam in the 200 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay at last year’s state meet and also swam as a leg in the 200 freestyle relay at the state open as well. Throughout the last few years, he’s been improving drastically and has been working tirelessly in the offseason to make his senior year his best year yet.
Tuttle said that the beauty about Egan is that he can swim anything and fully expects him to have a laundry list of events to choose from when it comes to the upcoming state meet. But Egan told Tuttle that he’s especially excited about the gains he’s made in the 100 fly during the offseason.
“He’s swinging a couple of his strokes, changing his breathing position and his freestyle a little bit,” said Tuttle. “Just in terms of staying conditioned in the offseason, putting in yards, he’s in incredible shape. If he stays healthy, he’ll be able to achieve whatever goals he’s set for himself.”
Returning juniors include Avery DeLong (100 backstroke, freestyle), Elena Famiglietti (freestyle, 100 breaststroke), Chase Galayda (diving), Logan McInnis (distance, freestyle), Jackson Schroeder (100 backstroke, freestyle), Jeremiah Segrue (freestyle), Kian Siadat (diving), and Jillian Zakrzewski (freestyle).
As the only returning junior that was all-conference last season, Galayda dove at last year’s state meet and led all four of Southington’s divers with a 14th-place finish and score of 353.55. He still holds the school record for diving and will be looking to reset his own school record to move up the chains in the state rankings.
Tuttle said that Galayda wants to break into the top 10 at the state meet, and landing on the podium with a top-six finish is not outside of his realistic possibilities. When Tuttle went to see Galayda at his first practice with assistant coach Jan Zagorski, Galayda already went through his entire state diving list and is ready to go.
“For him coming from the gymnastics background, he’s really getting comfortable with landing on his head,” said Tuttle. “The kid can twist and flip. It’s just getting comfortable with the half twisters, in which you’re landing on your head, rather than on your feet. If he can get accustomed to that, I don’t know if there’s anything stopping him.”
Siadat was right alongside Galayda at last year’s state meet as well.
Returning sophomores include Kyle Buchanan (freestyle, 100 breaststroke), Brian Egan (all events), Tyler Heidgerd (all events), Kiara Hourigan (100 breaststroke, freestyle), Sarah Meade (backstroke, freestyle), Derek Melanson (all events), Emerson Suski (diving), Gianna Wadowski (100 backstroke, 100 fly, freestyle), and Julia Wakefield (200 individual medley, 100 backstroke).
Brian Egan, Heidgerd, and Melanson all swam at last year’s state meet and are the only returning sophomores that were all-conference last season. Brian Egan was a member of the 400 freestyle relay at last year’s state meet.
Melanson swam in the 500 freestyle at last year’s state meet. Like Brendon Egan, he’s also been working tirelessly in the offseason to start the upcoming season right where he left off, if not, even better from last season.
Heidgerd competed in the second-most events as a Southington swimmer at last year’s state meet with the 200 medley relay, 100 backstroke, and 400 freestyle relay. He had a tremendous freshman year and was a big component of why the Knights were able to sweep the conference and regular season, running the table to go undefeated.
Just like Brendon Egan, Brian Egan, and Melanson, Tuttle said that Heidgerd has been swimming pretty much year-round with club teams to fine-tune his skills and stay conditioned for the upcoming season. Heidgerd will be looking to improve on what was a very impressive freshman year.
“The kid is at the front of his lane,” said Tuttle. “You can tell that he’s prepared and has done the work in the offseason to start day one as conditioned as possible.”
Suski finished behind Galayda as the next best Southington diver at the state meet.
Bender, Brendon Egan, Holbrook, Kimmel, and Wakefield have been named as the team captains for the upcoming season. Tuttle is entering his eighth year as head coach of the boys swimming and diving program.
After a new realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the West Division with Conard, Farmington, Hall, NW Catholic, and Simsbury.
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