Eagles Swim & Dive Eyeing Perfection
(Wethersfield coach Lee Schwartzman with junior Abby Francis and senior captains Maura Stewart, Amanda Tougas, and Caroline Logan)
Along the back wall of the poll inside Wethersfield High School are lamented letters spelling out UNDEFEATE. Each bold, capitalized letter represents one of the nine wins in nine meets that the Eagles have so far this season.
One more victory and head coach Lee Schwartzman can hang the final letter, completing the mission of an UNDEFEATED regular season.
“I’ve had the idea for years but I waited until we got through the first three meets and then I went and got the letters laminated,” said Schwartzman, “It worked out, we have ten meets and there are ten letters in undefeated. The team likes it and it goes along with the coaching cliché that every day is 1-0.”
The team has already captured their ninth straight conference title and has been consistently competitive for years under the tutelage of Schwartzman and diving coach Dave McOmber, but they have never finished the regular season without since the turn of the century thanks to rival Glastonbury, who had dealt them at least one defeat in each and every season.
But all that changed on Sept 19 when the Eagles took down the Tomahawks for the first time in 18 years.
“I have never seen this place so packed and so loud, it was deafening,” Schwartzman reflected about the victory over Glastonbury at WHS before ousting powerhouse Hall at the same venue three days later, “That was the hardest part of the season. We had built up Glastonbury and everyone feels invincible after we beat them, but we had Hall just a few days later. We were physically and emotionally drained after Glastonbury and didn’t have the best practice the day after but the captains told me that they felt no one could touch us because we had done something that nobody had done before. So it only took one day to focus on the next meet.”
Schwartzman’s confident captains are Caroline Logan, Maura Stewart, and Amanda Tougas. The three are not only sucessful swimmers, but also close friends out of the pool.
“It was awesome,” said Logan, referring to the monumental victory over Glastonbury, “I was standing and I saw Lee say to our diving coach that it was over and I just kind of lost it. I ran over to Maura behind the box and was like ‘Oh my God, we just won!’ It was crazy.”
The trio, along with four other seniors (Jessica Pratt, Abigail Sullivan, Rachel Wilson, and Jessica Garofalo), have been diligently training to defeat their nemesis for the past four years and all that hard work paid off during that memorable week in September.
“We had high expectations coming into the season because we had a strong team last year and we had such a good freshman class coming up,” stated Stewart, who has taken the newcomers under her wing, “We all grew up together, so we all swam together. We knew how good they were and I think they’ve fit in really well with the rest of the team. It was amazing seeing how fast they were swimming at the first couple of meets. We have such a good team and they are all amazing girls.”
“The freshmen have kind of motivated us. They’re all very good so it’s easy to want to race them,” added Tougas, “We’re all working hard and working together. We’re all achieving one goal and it’s nice to do that with your friends.”
The newbies have fit right in and have also been breaking records in their first high school season in the pool, setting freshman marks in all three relays.
Julia Pitchell, Haley Krawczyk, Olivia Thompson, and Emily Wolf combined to break both freshman records in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Pitchell, Krawczyk, Thompson, and Riley Wilhelm teamed up to break the freshman record in the medley relay.
Coming into the season, Schwartzman was familiar with the freshmen from his time coaching youth swimming in Wethersfield and knew he had a special group coming in.
“Wethersfield has that small town kind of vibe, which is really cool. Whether it’s from the Barracudas or from Pine Acres, everyone already knew someone on the team and most of the freshmen I’ve known for years,” said the longtime coach, “There’s always going to be learning curve and it helps more that they know me, but working with them at Pine Acres or in the summer is not the same. It’s laid back and the practices are pretty easy compared to what we do. I promise them when I meet with them at the middle school that they will go lifetime best times at their first high school meet. I’ll take some credit for the training, but just the atmosphere for a high school meet is totally different. You can’t replicate that in a clubs, town, or summer swimming.”
The first and last year swimmers have bookend a great season, but it’s been junior Abby Francis that continues to lead the way each and every meet.
“She works so hard and she’s very consistent. She’s going all day, every day,” Schwartzman said of Francis, “When it comes down to a race there are certain kids that just have to be the anchor and she one of those kids. She doesn’t show nerves and she is the most humble kid, always looking out for the other kids and the first thing that she’s does is congratulate her teammates.”
Francis shined as a sophomore, winning the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke at the conference championships and placing 2nd and 4th at the events at the state finals.
She’s back and better than ever this fall, already breaking pool records in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley.
“I’m more confident this year, but it’s a lot easier to work really hard because the whole team has been great and we have a really good atmosphere here. We motivate each other and it’s a lot easier to work hard in the water,” said Francis, “This year we have really good captains that have motivated the team really well and all the seniors have helped me in different ways.”
The record-setter has combined with Stewart, Krawczyk, and Pitchell to break the medley relay mark, and also helped brake and then re-brake the 400 freestyle mark with Tougas, Stewart, and Pitchell.
All of the accolades are great, but team accomplishments and individual improvements are what Schwartzman preaches.
“Last year we lost to Conard and Hall on the last relay and the old saying is that you have to learn how to win. That has prepared us and they have that confidence that if we’re in a close meet they know to turn it on and get it done. The seniors have done an extremely good job and this group keeps coming back better each day,” reflected the coach, who has also guided the boys team at WHS to several conference titles, “We like to put up banners here. When these seniors came in as freshmen we got 2nd in Class M and to leave 10-0 would be perfect. They don’t like to use perfect, they like undefeated, but I like to use perfect. We had an invitational and we won that. If we would have lost that it wouldn’t have gone against our record, but to me wining that was important because going into states nobody has beaten us. In swimming you can’t cause a fumble, you can’t pull on someone’s ankle. It’s you against the clock and hopefully your clock times are better than their clock times. You can only control how hard you work every day and how hard you train. Hopefully that’s better than what the other teams have.”
In order for Schwartzman to hang up the last letter, the team has to win one more meet at East Lyme this Friday, Oct 27 at 4 p.m.
A win would give the team an unblemished 10-meet mark and an undefeated swagger heading into the conference and the state finals.
Perfection would be great, but the goal is for each swimmer to have their best performance also be their final performance.
“Some of the seniors I’ve known for 11 to 12 years and a couple of them have some unfinished business,” remarked Schwartzman, “My ultimate goal for all the kids no matter where they end, the CCC meet or at states, is to end the season with their best time and get a time or score that when they see it they don’t believe it. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a kid looking at the scoreboard and then having to look again because they don’t believe the time.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin