The annual meet between West Hartford crosstown rivals Conard and Hall was held Wednesday at Cornerstone Aquatics Center.
By Paul Palmer
The Hall Titans won seven of 12 events, but it was the depth of the Conard Red Wolves that was the difference in this year’s crosstown battle in girls swimming.
“I thought our depth would help us,” said Conard coach John Smachetti. “I thought if we win some events … but we just didn’t have the depth,” said John McClure, Hall’s long-time coach.
In swimming, points are awarded by where an athlete places. In individual events the winner gets 6 points, followed by 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth and 1 for fifth. The gameplan for Conard was to win what they could, and then pile up the points for second, third, and fourth when they couldn’t.
Conard came in with the better regular season mark, having lost only once on the season, but it was the Titans who came out strong on Wednesday night with the quartet of Ziggy Edney, Mindy Zhao, Claire Nordquist, and Jessica Virkerman winning the opening relay in a time of 1:59:88, with Conard finishing second. In the next event, the 200-yard freestyle, Hall’s Miriam Youel – who had a great meet – took first, but Conard’s Meghan Jo, Kayla Lowney, and Celia Filotto took the next three spots and Conard took 9 points to Hall’s 7 and a 17-13 overall lead.
The meet would stay close until the 50 free when Conard picked up 11 points behind Jane Harhay (first), Claire Haverly (third), and Lucy Princince (fourth) that doubled the Red Wolves’ lead from 2 to 4 points heading into diving.
Conard brought in a larger, higher-scoring crew and they pushed the lead to 44-34 after Gabby Alekshun (220.75 pts, first place), Mia Rosario (second) and Ellin Messina (fifth) outscored Hall’s pair of divers Lexi Dominguez and Kate Hynes, 11-5.
Hall responded in the 100 fly with Zhao and Nordquist going 1-2, before Harhay and Lowney went 1-2 for Conard in the 100 free, with Hall’s Edney taking third and Conard’s Haverly taking fifth. At that point Conard held a 62-48 lead – following the script that Smachetti had written
During the regular season, Conard knocked off powerhouses Farmington and Southington, while the Titans fell to both of those teams. Smachetti said those wins, and the lone loss to Glastonbury, helped his team. “Coming in I thought we had a slight edge,” said the Conard coach. “We had beaten some common opponents that Hall lost to. The meets with Farmington and Southington really prepared us for this meet.”
That preparation was challenged as Hall started to chip away at the Conard lead. Youel’s (first) duel in the pool with Jo (second) in the 500 free was followed by Youel anchoring the winning 200 free relay. After Conard boosted its lead to 12 after the 100 backstroke, Zhao and Gwen Bye went 1-2 in the 100 breast, with teammate Alyssa Puskarz finishing fifth to pull Hall to within 6 points with just one event to go.
There was the very real possibility that the meet could end in a tie – as it did last year. If Hall managed to finish first and third in the final event – 400 yard freestyle relay – it would end in a 93-93 tie. If Hall went 1-2, they would win it all, 95-91. Relays are scored differently than individual events. The winner gets 8 points, second place gets 4 and third place gets 2, but no team can sweep all three spots for points.
Youel went out fast and gave Hall the early lead at the first exchange, but it was Harhay giving Conard the lead in the second leg, and teammates Pincince and Lowney held firm and won in a time of 3:56:49, followed by teammates Filotto, Rachel Mathews, Rosie Alonzo, and Lyla Harhay taking second place to seal the deal at 101-85.
“It’s been since 2016 that Hall has had a death grip on the title,” Smachetti said after the meet. “It was nice to get out from under that.”
“The kids swam very well, but we were the underdogs,” McClure said of his squad which already has seven swimmers with automatic qualifying times for the class tournament.
For Smachetti, the one-loss regular season was well earned by his team which he said won by working hard. “Before the first meet, I said we may not be the fastest team, but one I was most excited to race with all year.”
Following the meet there were two other traditions that were carried out. The first saw the two teams walk around the pool, exchanging congratulations and hugs. Many of these swimmers are teammates on club swim programs throughout the region and have known each other for years. The second was the winning team pushing their assistant coaches into the pool, and then showering the winning coach with buckets of pool water.
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