A new diver added to the mix on Jan. 20 provided key extra points for the team from West Hartford’s Conard High School.
Heading into Friday afternoon’s meet versus the Enfield-Suffield-Ellington Co-op team, both the Red Wolves and the Wildcats knew the meet would be close, likely coming down to the last event. The teams have met on several occasions, and Conard had always managed to pull off a win by the thinnest of margins.
Conard Head Coach Jen Pollard had a Hail Mary up her sleeve going into the meet that the Wildcats weren’t expecting. “A week ago one of the swimmers was sitting next to me during diving and said, ‘I can do that,’ and I looked at him and said, ‘Are you sure?’ and he said, ‘Yes, can I try?’ so the next day I sent him over to see Coach Juan to give diving a try. As I looked over Suffield’s results I realize how badly we needed Mike to dive, and I told Juan, ‘Mike has to dive on Friday, there are no other options for us,’ and Juan looked at me like I was nuts because I was giving him two days to get a brand new diver ready, but between Juan’s coaching, Mike’s determination, and fellow divers James Auciello and Henry Drolet helping him learn the last dive he needed, Mike was competition ready for Friday,” she said.
To those unfamiliar with swimming and diving, strategizing how to win a meet isn’t as simple as putting swimmers in their best events. “Winning a close meet is about match ups,” explained Pollard. “We all send each other our results, and we all use those results to guess where we think the opponent will put their guys, then we start figuring out where our own guys best fit. Your best swimmer might be a distance guy, but if he’s going to win the race by a landslide and you can put someone else in that spot and use him to win elsewhere, that’s what you do. During the boys season many teams only have one diver, some have none, so if you can get three divers on the board that’s a lot of free points which buys you breathing room. Knowing Suffield Co-op doesn’t have any divers, having three of our own put us up 13-0 before the meet even started.”
The Friday, Jan. 20 meet kicked off with Conard swimmers Keaden Nguyen, Nick Hall, Andy Filotto, and Alex Petit posting a season-best time in the 200 Medley Relay of 1:46.67, winning the event to put the Red Wolves up 8-6. The Wildcats answered back with a 1-3-5 finish in the 200 Freestyle to put them up 16-14.
Hall and Nguyen combined for a 1-3 finish in the 200 Individual Medley to bring the meet to a 23-23 tie, but the Wildcats 1-3 finish in the 50 Freestyle gave them a two point advantage at the diving break.
Conard’s three divers then took the board to claim the points that would give the Red Wolves an 11-point advantage moving into the back half of the meet. Auciello finished first among his teammates, Mike Burns finished second, and Drolet finished third.
The Wildcats used the next three events to chip away at the lead, outscoring the Red Wolves 7-9 in the 100 Butterfly, 100 Freestyle, and 500 Freestyle despite the best efforts of the Conard swimmers, closing the gap to just a five-point deficit before the 200 Freestyle Relay.
“The 200 Free Relay was the make or break point of the meet for both teams. Suffield had been faster than us all season, both their A and B teams, by a fairly significant margin, and I knew we had to win it to have a fighting chance going into the rest of the meet,” said Pollard. The race kicked off with Nguyen and Petit building a one second lead over the Wildcats, however the Wildcats top swimmer Cody Lonsberry was able to close the gap, finishing slightly ahead of Conard’s third leg, Filotto. The anchors for both teams had just finished a tough 500 Freestyle, but it was the Red Wolves Andrew Phan who proved to have just enough energy left to close the race and take first by a half a second, helping the relay post its season-best time of 1:37.02 by more than three seconds. Conard’s B Relay of Connor Dainiak, Christian Hunt, Zach Goslee, and Nathan Lowney easily wrapped up third place with a season best time of 1:43.50.
Conard went on to split the 100 Backstroke 8-8 behind Hall and Lucas Steadman’s 1-4 finish, however the Wildcats fought back in the 100 Breaststroke, outscoring the Red Wolves 11-5 in that event.
The teams went into the final event, the 400 Freestyle Relay, with a score of Conard 87, Suffield Co-op 82. Conard needed to either finish first, or take second and third to win, while Suffield Co-op needed first and third to emerge victorious. With the meet on the line, Phan, Dainiak, Petit, and Hall swam a season-best 3:39.27 to take first, and Lowney, C. Hunt, Ethan Hunt, and Goslee finished third, pushing the Red Wolves to the win with a final score of 97-86.
“This was a total team effort. Across the board the swimmers were hitting best times left and right, and our divers are what pushed us over the edge to the win. Without those 13 points we lose the meet by two. It’s a reminder to everyone that while there are more swimming events than diving events, you can’t win without having divers. I’m so proud of the way everyone performed today,” said Pollard.
After a 97-84 loss to Southington on Jan. 24, Conard’s record now stands at 5-2. Their next meet is Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Simsbury.
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