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Conard Swimming and Diving Stays Unbeaten after Nailbiter with Southington

The Southington and Conard girls swimming and diving teams posed for a photo together after a closely contested meet on Oct. 13. Courtesy photo

Conard hosted Southington at Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford on Friday, battling through the intense meet to the end for the win.

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Heading into Friday evening’s meet, Southington head coach Evan Tuttle and Conard head coach John Smachetti knew the match up between their teams was going to come down to the last race. Both teams were undefeated and performed similarly against a very tough Farmington squad, setting the stage for an intense meet that was sure to bring the best out of both teams and keep the crowd on the edge of their seats.

In the end Conard prevailed 93-92 with eight events decided by less than a second, and both teams set multiple personal best times and diving scores. As the teams and coaches shook hands one thing was abundantly clear from the exhausted looks on all the girls faces: both teams left everything they had in the water.

The meet started with Southington’s A Medley Relay (Julia Laszewski, Veronica Okurowski, Kyra Nguyen, Alex Szczepanik) out-touching Conard’s team (Gracie Lowney, Ella Hall, Rachel Mathews, CeCe Peck) by less than one second. Conard answered back in the 200 Freestyle, with Meghan Jo, Lucy Pincince, and Celia Filotto outscoring Southington’s swimmers 9-7 despite Southington’s Ella Nadeau placing first in the event.

Okurowski went on to win the 200 Individual Medley, while Conard’s Rosie Alonzo prevented a Southington sweep of the event by grabbing second place by less than a second. Jane Harhay went on to win the 50 Freestyle for Conard, backed up by sister Lyla Harhay and Claire Haverly who helped outscore Southington in the event 9-7.

Heading into diving Southington was ahead 35-27, but the Conard team had an ace up their sleeve. Senior Morgan Robinson, who has been swimming for Conard for two years and never once stepped foot on the board, was asked to try diving to see if she could get a legal dive list in time for the meet. The catch? Her first day on the diving board was a week before the meet and she had to be able to perform a reverse dive, which is generally regarded as the most difficult category of dives to perform. Thanks to the efforts of diving coach Juan Dominguez, her fellow divers Gabby Alekshun and Mia Rosario, and team manager Henry Drolet, Robinson was able to compete Friday night and secure two points that would change the meet for the Red Wolves. Alekshun and Rosario took the first and third place spots, while Southington’s Maya Kasica took second, and Robinson placed fourth, allowing Conard to close the gap to a one point deficit after diving concluded.

Southington came out of the diving break strong with Laszewski, Nguyen, and Mariam Labadze sweeping the 100 Butterfly despite Mathews, Haverly, and Filotto posting season-best times, putting the Blue Knights ahead 52-41. Conard fought back the next two events, with J. Harhay, G. Lowney, and Pincince combining for nine points in the 100 Freestyle, and Jo, L. Harhay, and Kayla Lowney grabbing another 12 in the 500 Freestyle. Heading into the final four events of the night Southington was now back to a one-point lead.

The Southington 200 Freestyle Relay team (Nadeau, Okurowski, Szczepanik, Labadze) posted a season-best time on their way to first place, while the Conard A Relay (Haverly, J. Harhay, L. Harhay, Jo) and B Relay (Mathews, Peck, Filotto, Pincince) also raced to season-best times and secured second and third place. In the 100 Backstroke Conard’s G. Lowney out-touched Southington’s Laszewski by less than one second, and in the 100 Breaststroke Conard’s Hall out-touched Southington’s Okurowski by 11 one-hundredths of a second, while Deni Peneva snagged a critical fourth place finish to push the score to 88-83 in favor of Southington heading into the last relay.

To win, Conard needed to take first and third place, Southington needed only take second and third, and on paper both the A and B relay teams were dead even. Neither team could afford to risk splitting their relays, so both coaches had no choice but to let the race play out.

Prior to the race kicking off, Smachetti had told his A relay team that they needed to give their anchor, G. Lowney, a four second lead because Southington’s top swimmer and relay anchor Nadeau would have fresh legs, while Lowney had just raced the backstroke five minutes before. Jo, J. Harhay, and L. Harhay took that message to heart, giving Lowney just over a five second lead, allowing Conard to secure the first-place spot. All eyes in the building then turned to watch the B relay teams, which were neck-and-neck during the first 150 yards, with Filotto keeping pace with Southington’s Rachel Alejandro, and Haverly pulling away from Southington’s Mia Kennedy. Pincince helped increase Conard’s lead over the Southington team, and Alonzo closed out the race and locked up the third-place spot, giving Conard a 93-92 victory over Southington.

After the meet coach Tuttle said, “I would just like to congratulate all athletes in the pool and on the board for putting on a brilliant display of athleticism and sportsmanship. The times and scores that athletes from both Conard and Southington were putting up throughout the meet, from first event through the last, were truly remarkable. It was yet another example of the level of competition that we are accustomed to seeing from the CCC West each and every season. Most importantly, at the height of the competition, with adrenaline and emotions running high, neither team ever waivered from their commitment to sportsmanship and when the last relays hit the wall, both teams gathered together to congratulate each other, take a group picture, and acknowledge the caliber of meet they were all just a part of.”

Coach Smachetti agreed with Tuttle’s comments and added, “Both coaches knew what was at stake going into this meet, if you want to win the CCC West, you have to win this meet. It was clear that both teams were prepared as the times we saw were pretty much season best. While all race place finishes were critical, the Conard 4 x 100 A and B relays finishing 1-3 along with a fourth place in diving by Morgan Robinson (diving in just her second meet) turned the tables for the one-point Conard win. The Conard girls were both physically and emotionally drained at the end as they had just come off a big win on Tuesday against Farmington.”

Conard advanced to 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in the CCC West. Their next meets are Tuesday, Oct. 17 at Newington High School and Thursday, Oct, 19 at Glastonbury High School.

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