When the Pilgrim swim team won the first race at the annual Injury Fund Relay Carnival in December, the overriding emotion was surprise.
“Some years, we didn’t even have enough kids to run the first event,” said head coach Nisa San Giovanni. “Not only did we have enough bodies, but we won the first event. The kids had this look on their face – I wish I had a camera. They were stunned. I looked at the Warwick Vets coach and said, ‘What was that?’ I actually counted my kids to make sure they all swam. I was shocked.”
Then the Pats kept winning, taking first in four of the six events to win the team title. As the victories piled up, surprise gave way to excitement – and a realization of what’s possible this year.
After five straight losing seasons, the Pats are poised to break out.
“The kids really got a sense of, ‘We’re pretty good this year,’” San Giovanni said. “They were really excited. I think they realize if they keep working, they could have a fun year.”
And the fun has already started. The Pats opened the dual-meet season on Friday against Warwick Vets and cruised to a 69-17 victory.
The Pats hope that’s the first of many. They’ve won only two meets in each of the past two years and just one the year before, but they’re poised to turn things around.
“It’s going well so far,” San Giovanni said. “I’m not saying we’re going to win the Olympics, but we’re going to have a lot of fun this year. For the dual meet season, I think it’s exciting for the kids. They’re going to have a shot every time.”
Pilgrim expected to be stronger this year thanks to the presence of veterans like Taylor Ryan, Brenna Reeves and Casey Adams. When the Pats saw what newcomers Sophia Caracuzzo and Abagail Slater could do, they realized they’d be at another level this season.
“This year, we have a good mix of returning swimmers who have been with us for four years and these young kids who have been swimming all their lives,” San Giovanni said. “That’s been a tremendous help. Adding Sophia Caracuzzo and Abby Slater to Taylor Ryan, Casey Adams, Brenna Reeves – the kids with good experience – gives us probably eight really solid swimmers. We’ve never had that.”
Ryan, a junior, was Pilgrim’s most successful swimmer in the postseason last year. She took 10th in the 100 fly and 11th in the 200 IM at the Division III championships. Reeves and fellow seniors Rosario Romare and Courtney Smith also had success at divisions last year, along with Adams, a junior. Sophomore McKenzie Caron was also a solid performer last year.
Caracuzzo, a freshman, has already made a splash this year, as has Slater, a junior who is a home-schooled student.
The Pats also have some depth, with more than 20 swimmers on the roster.
“We’ve still got some learn-to-swim type kids where this is their first time in the pool, but they’re coming along,” San Giovanni said. “They’re working hard and they’re gutsy. We had kids trying stuff for the first time today and they’re willing to do that.”
Against Vets on Friday, Pilgrim won nine of 11 events and took first and second in eight of those. Slater, Caron, Caracuzzo and Nicole Gauthier won the 200 medley relay, while Caron, Reeves, Romare and Alaina Moran won the 200 free relay. The Pats also won the 400 free relay, with Adams, Caracuzzo, Ryan and Slater teaming up.
In individual events, Adams won the 50 freestyle and the 100 free, Slater won the 200 free and the 100 back, Ryan won the 200 IM, and Caron won the 100 breast.
All in all, it was another strong performance for the Pats, who will quickly get a good idea of where they stack up. Eight of the team’s nine dual meets are in January.
“There are a lot of teams and we only saw two or three at the Injury Fund, so I really don’t know,” San Giovanni said. “All we’re looking for right now is for the times to get better and better. That’s what I tell them – you’re swimming against yourself. There are going to be people faster than you and people slower than you in every meet. You just want to make sure your times are better and better as the season goes along.”
If that happens, the Pats will be poised to keep the good times rolling.
“We’ve got a great group of kids,” San Giovanni said. “They’re good students, they’re involved in a lot of other stuff. They’re great kids. It’ll be nice to see them get some accomplishments for that.”