By John Goralski
Laurel Dean leapfrogged over three swimmers in her heat and one in a faster heat at the Yale University pool. Marisa Matthews earned the final spot at the state open but moved up one spot in the 50 freestyle standings. On Saturday, Nov. 16, the Lady Knight swimming season came to an end at the state open championships, and it was a fitting end to their breakout season.
“They all swam well. We didn’t have best times today, but we had a number of best times at the Class LL finals,” said Southington coach Evan Tuttle. “You just have to compare them with those girls that they swam against in their heats. Marisa picked off an individual in the 50 freestyle, and Laurel picked off four people in the breaststroke. I’m happy with what we were able to do today, and I think that they are, too. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be here, and they were here in force.”
In total, the Knights were able to claw their way to the state open in three different events, and that’s the largest number of swimmers at the championship meet in more than a decade. Twice in recent years, the boys team has qualified for four events. Now, the girls have closed the gap.
“They’ve done something that hasn’t been achieved in a long time,” said Tuttle. “To have two individuals and a relay at the state open? That’s a tremendous feat and hopefully this is our standard for years to come.”
It didn’t happen by accident. In fact, the state open competition was the icing on the cake after a Cinderella run through the Class LL championships. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Southington clawed their way into the top 10 at the division finals with a trio of school records and one Lady Knight climbing the podium with a top 6 finish. Greenwich captured the overall team title with 804.5 points. Amity (513) edged Glastonbury (500.5) for second place, but Southington scored 215 points to claim 10th overall.
“Performing well doesn’t quite describe what they were able to do,” said Tuttle. “They did absolutely everything that I asked from them to put themselves in position to make opens on Saturday.”
Matthews just missed a medal in the 50 freestyle with a new Lady Knight record (25.37), but it was fast enough to clinch a state open berth. Matthews went on to earn a medal in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.79) with a new personal best time, but didn’t advance to the opens.
Laurel Dean wasn’t qualified for the medal heat in the breaststroke, but the senior co-captain actually finished faster than Matthews to set a new school record (1:09.3) and claim a berth in the state open.
“That just shows how deep we are,” said Tuttle. “Laurel had an off-day at the qualifying meet. She was a little tight and wasn’t quite feeling it, but if there’s one person that can fight through it that’s Laurel. She was still hurt. She was still sore and exhausted, but she pushed through it to finish with the fifth best time.”
Dean and Matthews teamed up with Aly Baribault and Bailey Potter to claim a third school record with a ninth place finish in the 200 freestyle relay (1:44.67), and that was fast enough to claim Southington’s final spot in the state open competition. The team shaved more than four seconds off their previous best to set the new program record.
“I thought an ambitious mark would have been 1:45.5 to hopefully get us that last spot into opens, but even that was a stretch,” said Tuttle. “For a sprint event, they pretty much demolished their time. All four individuals had to take almost a full second off their time in a 50 sprint, and that’s unheard of. They finished first in that second heat, and their time beat a team from the first heat as well. That doesn’t show up on the standings, but they finished almost 1.5 seconds faster than the previous record that was set two years ago. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
Up and down the lineup, Southington set personal bests at the Class LL finals. Allie Schroeder, Bethany Greenlaw, Sam Sagnella, and Kristen Loose trimmed more than a second off their qualifying time in the 200 medley relay (2:06.19). Dean, Schroeder, Baribault, and Matthews trimmed more than four seconds off their time in the 400 freestyle relay (3:53.71). Baribault trimmed almost 7.5 seconds off her previous best in the 500 freestyle (5:33.4) and half a second in the breaststroke (1:10.95).
The Lady Knights trimmed time from their qualifying score in every race but one.
“That’s what you expect when you go into that meet, and that’s what the girls expected,” said Tuttle. “I don’t want to say surprised me, because nothing that they do surprises me any more. The times they turned in—Aly in the 500m, Laurel in the 100 breaststroke, and that 200 free relay—were quite special.”
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By John Goralski