GIRLS SWIMMING: Olivia Fournier leads Southington on its record-setting night

GIRLS SWIMMING: Olivia Fournier leads Southington on its record-setting night

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SOUTHINGTON — Olivia Fournier is a sprinter. The time she spends in the water racing for the Southington girls swim team is measured in hundreds of seconds. 

The legacy she leaves in her wake will likely prove timeless.

On a memorable Tuesday night for the Blue Knights in the Class LL championship meet at Wesleyan University, five new team records were set, and Fournier was in on four of them.

The senior captain lowered her own marks in the 50-yard freestyle (24.63) and the 100 free (53.52).

She also anchored a pair of record relays, teaming with Meghan Hammarlund, Julie Duszak and Maddie Symecko on the 200 medley (1:52.75) and with Duszak, Gianna Perugini and Andie Nadeau on the 200 freestyle (1:41.11).

This was big stuff for the Blue Knights. They might not have been in contention with dynastic Greenwich, which won its 27th class title, or the other powerhouses from Fairfield County, but they did raise their own bar. Southington qualified all three relays plus six swimmers in nine individual events for the Class LL meet.

Fournier (8th, 50 free), Duszak (6th, breaststroke), the medley relay (7th) and the 200 free relay (8th) were in championship heats.

“We’re building the program in the right direction. We’ve been doing so for the last few years,” said coach Evan Tuttle. “Liv and her senior class have really been instrumental in bringing this program up to the elevation that it’s at now.”

On Tuesday, the Blue Knights elevated by going lower:

■The medley team cut two seconds off the record it had set just three days earlier in the Class LL trials. Prior to, Southington’s medley record had stood for 15 years.■The 200 free relay record was also trimmed by two seconds. Though this record was only a year old, one of the girls in on the deed —  the freshman Hammarlund — sounded a historic note by breaking a 15-year-old program record when she swam a 1:02.09 in a consolation heat of the 100 backstroke.

Hammarlund’s was the fifth school record set by Southington on Tuesday night. Duszak, a junior, was a mere half-second off another when she finished sixth in the breaststroke in 1:09.68.

“Five new school records: A tremendous performance by the girls,” said Tuttle after recording each one and returning his trademark pencil behind his ear. “Every single one of them really performed above and beyond and have made me very proud as a coach.”

Going most above, most beyond, was Fournier. Tuesday was the culmination of a high school career done right. Fournier started breaking Southington records as a freshman and started qualifying for the State Open by her sophomore season. (She was likely to earn her third straight Open berth once the remaining class meets were completed on Wednesday night.)

Hard work has been the foundation, Tuttle notes. So, too, has drive. Fournier refuses to be complacent.

“A lot of times you have talented athletes who come out strong freshman year and then kind of sit back on their heels and take it for granted and coast,” the coach remarked. “That’s the complete opposite of what she’s done.”

That attitude was reflected in Fournier’s assessment of her Class LL performance. Records? Good. Placements? Could have been better.

“I obviously want a best time, so that’s a plus, but I didn’t finish as high as I expected and wanted to,” she said. “I wanted to crack the top five, at least.”

 A year-round swimmer — the Southington Rays are her club team — Fournier has been swimming since age 7. She took to the water so well, in fact, that an instructor recommended she go out for the swim team when she got to high school.

Blessed with power and a strong finishing kick, Fournier went in as a sprinter. Over the ensuing four years of high school, she honed technique. She also learned how enhance speed by, ironically, allowing her body to relax.

At this stage of the season, when the competition ramps up, Fournier needs it all: the big motor, finer points, the composure. There’s another factor that moves to the fore. Fournier, on the south side of 5½ feet tall, is not as long as most of her opponents. In short races, the reach of an arm can be huge.

Fournier embraces the challenge. “I like being the underdog and people not expecting me to do big things because it helps me to push myself to be better,” she said.

In particular, Fournier likes being up on the block, waiting to swim the anchor leg of relay, surveying the pool and relishing if there’s water to be made up.

“I like to race people. That’s my all-time favorite thing,” Fournier said. “In relays, if we’re behind, I love catching up and being like, ‘Hey, I’m going to pass you out now.’”

Fournier will soon be passing along to college pools and classrooms. She generated quite a bit of interest from Division I and Division III programs.

The Division I schools? Sacred Heart, Fairfield, Marist, Lafayette and Holy Cross. The Division III schools? Trinity, Connecticult College, Wesleyan, Tufts, Hamilton, Bates, St. Lawrence and Stevens Institute of Technology.

Fournier, who wants to study bio-medical engineering, did overnight trips to Fairfield, Connecticut College, Trinity and Stevens Tech. At the moment, she’s leaning toward Trinity.

Fournier will leave a Southington program that is on the rise. Duszak has another year. Hammarlund, Nadeau and Symecko headline a very strong freshman class. The roster is deep.

“I’m hoping they improve and get better and Southington takes swimming to the next level because we can be a real competitive swim team,” Fournier said.

There’s no doubt Fournier will be remembered as a cornerstone. She set the example to follow, in and out of the pool. Tuttle already recognizes her as one of the best he’s coached.

“Absolutely, and not just in terms of athletic ability, but just an all-around outstanding individual,” he said. “She’s been a leader on this team since Day 1 of freshman year and she hasn’t lost hold of that leadership ever since, not just in terms of her work ethic, but her attitude. There is no more positive an individual than Olivia Fournier, and that is contagious.

“She’s exactly the type of young lady you want to build a program around and I’ve been fortunate to do so for the last four years.”

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