Swimming: A rising tide raises all boats

Southington High School diving coach Jan Zagorski, left, and swimming coach Evan Tuttle, right, applaud last year’s graduates during senior night activities last winter.

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

Southington girls swimming and diving just ended its season last month, but the boys are already in the pool. The Blue Knights are in training and begin their season on Jan. 12 against Avon at West Hartford’s Cornerstone Aquatics Center.

Once again, Evan Tuttle is in his familiar position, pacing the edge of the pool, surveying the talent. From early September through mid-March, Tuttle spends most afternoons guiding Blue Knight swimmers toward their potential.

It’s almost like one season and one team. The Southington girls set the bar high, finishing 13th overall in the state after taking ninth in Class LL. Now, the boys will take center stage. The girls set the pace with a flood of swimmers reaching the state open, and now the boys will try to keep pace.

Together, the teams form a small community. The boys help the girls in the fall, and the girls return the favor in the winter.

“Regardless of the class size, in some towns, swimming is a culture,” Tuttle said. “That has been my goal in Southington for the past 10 years. I’m trying to cultivate that culture.”

Tuttle said SHS swimming and the Southington YMCA’s Rays are trying to help establish that culture. The girls team had a handful of year-round swimmers: Meghan Hammarlund, Andie Nadeau, Maddie Symecko, Adessa Noyes, Kayla Nguyen and Sarah Meade. Most come to the program with little to no competitive experience.

“With hard work, with drive, and with determination, they become competitive swimmers very quickly,” Tuttle said.

For example, Gianna Perugini only began swimming as a sophomore. As a junior this fall, she was part of two school record relay teams that competed at the State Open at Yale University.

“That’s something Southington swimmers and divers have done for years,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle points to Southington alumni, like Olivia Fournier for the girls and Mike Smigelski for the boys, as examples of the leadership it takes to build a team. Both were record-setting swimmers for Tuttle, and each has set the bar high for future classes.

But the coach said that what makes Fournier and Smigelski role models goes beyond their records to the leaders they were outside of the pool.

“Both are high-caliber individuals,” Tuttle said. Both worked to make their teammates better. That’s their biggest legacy.

Tuttle said he wants Southington swimming to become a program that competes against the best the state has to offer. He also wants the Blue Knights to do it the right way.

Southington cheers on its opponent at dual meets, and there are few places where that is a regular occurrence. Tuttle said he looks for the Blue Knights to control the intangibles, such as their sportsmanship, their energy, and their drive to be better every day.

“They’ll be outstanding members of the community for their whole lives,” Tuttle said.

In the end, it’s not all about winning and where you finish. It’s about being the best that you can be.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com

Leave a Reply