(Wethersfield captains Cassie Landry, Abby Francis, Zoe Adams are leading the Eagles in the pool)
Saying Lee Schwartzman doesn’t like to lose is an understatement.
Last year, the competitive head coach didn’t experience that defeating feeling as his swimming and diving teams at Wethersfield won all of their regular season meets, including the girls earning a memorable victory over Glastonbury, breaking an 18-year losing streak to their nemesis.
This season has been more of the same with the exception of a loss, decided on the final relay, to those pesky Tomahawks from Glastonbury.
“It would have been nice to still be undefeated,” admitted Schwartzman, “I told them after the meet that you can be sad, but many of them haven’t lived through it. We lost by two points and for a lot of years we lost by 40 or 50 points to them. The reality is that when you lose to a team 18 years in a row that’s not a rivalry, that’s just another time that this team beat you. The fact that the meet is circled on their calendar now and that there is importance to try and beat us is a good feeling. My goal is to be the best, because if you’re going to do it why not be the best.”
Despite the loss things are trending upwards for the Eagles, who have rebounded to win four straight meets, including an easy victory over Windsor last Tuesday.
“In the beginning of the season the team as a whole wasn’t practicing well, so the fact that we are practicing so well now is awesome because sometimes it’s hard to turn those things around. The practices are going incredible and are a lot of fun because everyone is pushing,” stated Schwartzman, “We never want to lose but the challenge with winning every meet is that winning shadows things, it hides things that you may not pick up on. The team feels they’re invincible and ultimately you get to the end and there are better teams, so losing does humble you.”
Luckily Schwartzman has a strong senior class that’s been able to forge ahead after the early-season set back.
As a matter of fact, the loss may have strengthened the unit.
Captains Zoe Adams, Cassie Landry, and Abby Francis are three of eight seniors that experienced the highest of highs following the win over Glastonbury last fall, and a year later were helping pick the team up after the loss on Sept 20.
“Losing to Glastonbury made us much stronger. It was tough for a week and you could tell everyone was still a little upset about it but we came back stronger from it and I think that it will make us do better at the state meet and the CCC meet,” said Adams, who has committed to swim at Assumption College, “Our team has grown closer because of it and it made us want to work harder and focus on the future and not try to be the team that we were last year.”
“Being honest, it wasn’t that easy to refocus. We struggled for about a week but after that we were able to come together and focus on each meet,” added Landry, who excels in the distant events.
Francis has been a force since she first entered the pool at WHS, breaking records and capturing a Class L state title in the 200 freestyle last fall.
The steady senior had continued to excel in the water and expanded her role out of the pool.
“Last year we had a lot of strong seniors that led the team, so this year as a senior class we grew and tried to be as good of leaders as we could and set examples for the underclassmen. We have a great freshman class here and we’re trying to incorporated them and we’re having a lot of fun doing it,” said Francis, “Being a captain there are a lot more responsibilities but we’ve really enjoyed team bonding. We’re all very supportive of each other. ”
Francis’ fantastic high school career is in the latter stages but her talent and leadership have been evident from day one.
“She’s always been pretty vocal, even as a freshman she was always encouraging. When you come in and you’re that good it’s natural,” recalled Schwartzman, “Over the years she knows what she needs to do and she’ll swim whatever she needs. Everyone else will be doing freestyle and she’ll be working on other strokes. I wish we had more races for her, but there aren’t many kids in a dual meet that are going to push her.”
Prior to this season Francis already achieved several pool and school records, and this season she’s added another to her resume, setting a new WHS pool record in the 100 breaststroke during the Glastonbury meet.
“It was a Glastonbury swimmer that had the record and it was a nine year old record, so it’s nice that it happened in that meet,” Schwartzman said with a grin.
“Every year I tend to focus on different events, it’s really just whatever I’m feeling and excited to try out that season,” added Francis, who can swim all the different strokes and is equally impressive in distance, mid, and sprinting events.
Kathryn Galusha, Shannon Hattie, Alyssa Pearce, Mackenzie Scutari, and Sophia Zagaja are the other five seniors that are helping the trio of captains
“This senior class as a whole is very strong. They’ve all come a long way, they’ve grown as people,” said Schwartzman, who gave his seniors a copy of John Wooden’s book ‘Wooden on Leadership’ and assigning each of them a chapter to report on.
“John Wooden is the man and none of them knew who he was,” a smiling Schwartzman said in disbelief, “When you’re a captain you’re just thrown to the wolves and by the time you figure it out the season is over. It’s the first time I did it, but the whole goal was to figure out what their strengths are.”
Schwartzman’s tactic worked as his seniors are mentoring a great group of young swimmers. The freshman class a year ago featured standouts Olivia Thompson, Haley Krawczyk, Riley Wilhelm, and Julia Pitchell.
The four have all continued to thrive as sophomores.
“Olivia’s playing a different role, she’s winning meets now. Last year at the Glastonbury meet I don’t think she scored a point and this year she won two events,” Schwartzman said of Thompson, who was always a fast sprinter and relayer but has expander her role to distance events as well, “She’s really taken a huge step forward, she had a really good drop at the end of last year and she came in very much further ahead of last year.”
Incoming freshman Alanna DePinto has also shined under the spotlight.
“Alanna has done really well. She has a state cut in every event expect one, which is amazing,” Schwartzman of DePinto, “The others are coming along, two more will probably qualify for states. When they come in it’s hard and it’s a big adjustment. The good thing is that all the girls know each other, they come in and they are already functioning as a team.”
The young swimmers are following in the waves of some great mentors that are hoping to enjoy every moment of the rest of their senior seasons.
For Adams this is the first time that she swam over the summer and the dividends are paying off.
“That’s has actually helped me a lot, my coaches have noticed it already,” said Adams, who also plays basketball and runs track at WHS, “I’ve notice a total difference by just swimming one extra season.”
For Landry the last couple of meets are a chance to do what she’s always done, work tirelessly.
“Just as long as I’m working my hardest in practice. Whatever the end result is, I feel like I’m proud of it,” stated Landry.
The team has one more home meet and it will be a special one for the seniors. Senior Night is Oct 26 against East Lyme at 5 pm.
It will be the last meet before the conference finals, class finals, and state open.
“We never really make a lot of goals for the state open, but this year I want to place the highest we have, which is top ten. This means we have to be really fast at the state finals and then be able to hold that through the long week, which is always really tough. We want to get as many kids to the open, the more swims you have the more points you have.,” said Schwartzman, who added that he’d also like to see at least one of his relay teams earn all-state.
“We have really good comradery here. That has really helped us during the season, especially now during the hard training months,” added Francis, “We’re getting closer as a team and we’re excited to get to the end of the season and show what we can do.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Carelys Benitez- Newington (Volleyball): Benitez had 17 digs and six aces in a three set victory over Wethersfield last Wednesday. The junior is very adaptable player, having played a variety of positions for the Indians over the past couple of seasons.
Sean Ahern- Middletown (Cross Country): Ahern finished first as the Blue Dragons upended Plainville last week. The sophomore is just reaching his potential on the trails and is an honor student in the classroom.
Anna Kallajian- Wethersfield (Field Hockey): Kallajian was again flawless in net, not allowing a goal in the Eagles 1-0 victory over Glastonbury last Wednesday. The senior goaltender has been steady as a rock and the shutout was Wethersfield’s fourth of the season. Freshman Logan Lisella scored the game’s only goal on an assist from Kate Anzidei late in regulation to secure the win over Glastonbury.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Stockman has continued to dominate out on the trails as a junior, winning the Wickham Invitational in Manchester last Saturday. The all-conference and all-state runner is getting ready to defend her state title later this month.
Eliza Weston- Cromwell (Soccer): Weston was an offensive power for a Panthers soccer team that won all three games last week. The senior scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 win over Morgan and scored again later in the week as Cromwell shutout both Westbrook and Haddam-Killingworth.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin