The Pilgrim swim team lost Thursday’s dual-meet opener to Classical 61-33, the same exact score of last year’s match-up with the Purple.
It’s not a surprise – the Patriots are in the same boat they were in last year. But while that means some dual-meet struggles are likely, the Pats aren’t complaining. Their nucleus again features some of the best swimmers the school has had in many years, and that group is poised for another successful campaign.
“We started out well at the Injury Fund – we won five out of the six events there because we’ve got that great core,” said head coach Nisa San Giovanni. “What we don’t have is the depth. That’s always our problem. But we have four kids that can qualify for states and we’ve got a relay team that should be there. We’ve got some great individual swimmers.”
The Pats went 4-5 in dual meets last year. They could improve on that depending on how they match up with their opponents, but they actually have a little less depth than they had last year.
“We had five or six who didn’t come back,” San Giovanni said. “It’s like track – you need numbers, you need bodies in those second lanes. You’re giving up a spot every race.”
Whatever happens in the dual meets, the Pats will have plenty of individual success to focus on. Four swimmers who had top-10 finishes at the Division III meet last year are back in the fold and ready for more in seniors Taylor Ryan and Abagail Slater, junior McKenzie Caron and sophomore Sophia Caracuzzo.
“They’re doing very well,” San Giovanni said.
Ryan took second-place at the division championships in both the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly. She qualified for states in both events and finished 27th and 17th.
Slater grabbed second in the 100 free and third in the 200 free at divisions, then finished 25th in the 100 free at the state meet, along with a 24th-place finish in the 500 free.
Caracuzzo, as a freshman, finished second at divisions in the 500 free and qualified for two state events. She finished 31st in the 500 free and 24th in the 100 fly.
Caron finished 10th in the 100 breast at the division meet and teamed with Caracuzzo, Ryan and Slater on a pair of state-meet qualifying relay teams. The Pats placed second in the 400 free relay at divisions and 14th at states. In the 200 medley relay, they took fourth at divisions and 19th at states.
That crew got the new season off to a strong start in the meet against Classical. Ryan won the 200 IM in 2:06.87 and the 100 fly in 1:18.78. Slater took first in the 200 free in 2:21.54, while taking second in the 100 back and 100 breast. Caracuzzo took second in the 500 free.
“They’re real independent-minded swimmers,” San Giovanni said. “They swim on their own time, they swim with their other teams, they help our younger kids at our practices. They’re very motivated. I’m pleased with them. They’re also in great shape because they’ve been swimming. They already had a running start.”
The Pats also have some other solid swimmers in the fold. Senior Casey Adams and junior Nicole Gauthier are strong freestyle sprinters who both had top-25 finishes at the division meet last year. Adams took third in a pair of events against Classical, while Gauthier placed third in the 100 free.
“Casey Adams and Nicole Gauthier are good freestyle swimmers,” San Giovanni said. “Casey is coming off a back injury so she’s not happy with herself but she’ll get to where she wants to be. Nicole is doing a good job. She just started last year.”
The Pats also had junior Jodi Hughes and sophomore Jasmine Tuscani competing in the meet last week.
All in all, it’s a small group for the Pats. But they plan to be making some waves anyway.
“I think our core kids will have a decent place at the divisions, top five or six and they’ll qualify for states,” San Giovanni said. “It’ll be a fun year.”
Titans focused on improvement
As the program’s numbers have dropped, so too has Toll Gate’s ability to compete in a difficult Division II dual-meet slate. The Titans went 0-8 last year and when they opened the 2013-14 season last Wednesday, they did it against South Kingstown – who came out of D-II to win the state championship last season.
In the face of that, the Titans are worrying mostly about themselves, whether it’s getting the most out of their top-level swimmers or teaching the basics to a host of newcomers.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge in dual meets,” said head coach Mike Seidenberg. “We have a lot of just very new swimmers who have never really done it before. And they’re competing at a level that looks like it’s going to be very strong. The team we faced today came out of D-II and won the state championship last year. We’re going to be very focused on ourselves. We’ll compete as hard as we can, but we’ll be looking at our own times and really looking to improve.”
For the team’s top swimmers, improvement will go from a starting point that’s pretty far along. Senior Mikayla Rogers has been the city’s top swimmer each of the last two years and she’ll be looking for continued success in her final high-school season. Rogers finished third in the 500 free and fifth in the 100 fly at last season’s state championships.
“Mikayla has a few goals that we’ve talked about, “Seidenberg said. “She’s ready to go.”
The next most experienced swimmer doesn’t have the same kind of track record. Senior Stephanie Hager missed most of the last two seasons with an injury. She’s back and looking to make the most of her final season.
“She’s basically been injured for two years,” Seidenberg said. “So she’s coming back. It’s nice to see her out here.”
Also back in the fold for the Titans are some less experienced swimmers who will be looking to take strides. Senior Amanda Wilks, juniors Laura Hopkins, Breana Coleman and Abigail Lewis competed for the Titans last year, along with sophomores Madeline Hayes and Rachel Euell.
“We’re hoping to improve throughout the year and have the green, very new kids develop as a swimmer,” Seidenberg said. “I had a girl who was new last year trying the butterfly today for the first time. It’s good to see that they’re willing to try new stuff. We’re just going to keep working.”
The roster also includes a host of newcomers, including seniors Mary Gilbar and Stephanie Pham, junior Abby Tillotson, sophomores Brittany Amaral, Alexis Laboy, Victoria Nelson and Lindsay Russell and freshman Kasey Moorehead.
“It’s nice to see new times, so that they can see where they are,” Seidenberg said. “It’s just trying to get them up to speed and improve on their abilities – all of the stuff that swimming has to learn in a matter of weeks. For some of them, it might be something they do for life. Even though they aren’t going to be out there winning, they’re going to be learning.”
The Titans lost 75-18 to South Kingstown in the opener. Rogers won the 500 free for the team’s only first-place finish. Hopkins and Hager each had a second-place finish, with Gilbar, Tillotson, Euell, Hager and Rogers getting a third place each.
’Canes working hard
The Warwick Vets squad that jumped in the pool for Thursday’s season-opening meet is not the same team that will eventually be suiting up. Once paperwork and the required number of practices are complete, the Hurricanes will have about 10 swimmers in the fold.
But the early team is the one that got a victory. With just three swimmers currently ready to go, the ’Canes managed to slip past Shea 21-18 for the program’s first win since the 2011-12 season. Coming off an 0-8 season and with the focus trained on individual achievement, the victory was welcomed.
“They were very excited,” said head coach Tamra Gallo. “I already sent a message to our athletic director. It was good.”
Alyssa Flanagan and Phone Htoo had two first-place finishes apiece, while Laura Paulin won one event to power the victory.
As the season heats up in January, additional victories may be tough to come by, but the ’Canes will just be trying to put their best foot forward.
“They’re here every day, working hard,” Gallo said. “I have no swimmers that swim year round. That makes it much less competitive, and I’m okay with that. I’m just hoping that they build a love for the sport.”
Vets was in a similar situation last year, with one difference. Senior Katie Evans was one of the top swimmers in the division and she came home from the state championship with a pair of top-12 finishes.
Evans is gone to graduation and the ’Canes no longer have a year-round, competitive swimmer in their midst. The three swimmers who were in the pool Thursday were all part of the team last year and will be leading the way. Flanagan, Htoo and Paulin are all juniors.
“These girls, I’ve worked with every day and they’re terrific young ladies,” Gallo said. “They’re a pleasure.”
Once the roster is rounded out over the next few weeks, the ’Canes will have enough depth to fill events. What they won’t have is experience.
“I have a young team,” Gallo said. “No seniors. I’ve got a number of freshmen and sophomores. It’s a building kind of time. My expectation is to teach them to improve all four strokes, teach turns and starts. That’s what I love doing and they’re like sponges.”
Gallo hopes they learn to love the sport – and improve along the way.
“I want to make them lifelong swimmers,” she said. “It’s one of those sports that is a life sport and that’s something I’ve always loved about it. I hope I can instill a love of swimming for life.”