March 18, 2014 11:04PM
By Sean Krofssik
MIDDLETOWN — As expected, Tuesday’s Class M state swimming championship at the Freeman Athletic Center on the campus of Wesleyan University was a successful meet for Wallingford.
Sheehan senior Carl Thurston, Sheehan sophomore Connor Robison and Lyman Hall senior Kyle Neri each pocketed first-place finishes.
For Neri, it was extra special. Despite several second-place finishes over the past four years, Neri broke through with a victory in the 100 freestyle with a school-record time of 46.88.
“I’m very excited to finally get it,” Neri said. “It means a lot. This is my fourth season of high school swimming and it’s nice to finish it with a win.
“I didn’t shave or taper for this meet,” he added. “I used this meet as a precursor to see how I will do later on. I put everything I had into it and I didn’t hold anything back. I just wanted to have fun during this meet.”
Neri felt some extra motivation because he took second in the 50 free earlier in the meet. He swam 22 seconds flat, but was edged out by Thurston, who nabbed the state title from his No. 4 seed with a 21.87.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” Thurston said. “I’ve been working the entire season to get the best time possible. I hoped for a better time, but I came out first, so I can’t complain.”
Thurston said he knew he had his hands full in the 50, his best race.
“My strategy was to work on my turns because, swimming-wise, I know how fast I can go,” Thurston said. “I swim all out and 100 percent with good technique. I have been practicing flip-turning and I handled my flip-turn pretty well.”
Thurston later finished fourth in the 100 in 48.18.
As for Robison, he won the Class S 500 freestyle crown last year as a freshman and, on Tuesday, added a Class M 500 gold to his collection by breaking his own school record by more than five seconds with a 4:39.36.
“It means a lot,” the sophomore said. “I’m happy how I did. Hopefully, that will get me a good spot at Opens. (Coach) Keith (Cargan) has been working me really hard and it has all paid off.
“I owe it all to the coaches that I have had over the years,” he added “I train a lot and it hurts a lot, but I like doing (the 500), so I’m stuck with it.”
Robison said by the 11th lap of the 20-lap race his body starts hurting. But that was the very point where he really started pulling away from eventual second-place finisher Jack Wassik from Torrington. Robison won by nearly seven seconds.
“For Connor, we had a plan going in and we just followed that plan and stuck to it and he destroyed it,” Cargan said. “He destroyed his heat. In all of my years coaching high school swimming that’s one of the best performances I have seen at the state championship meet.”
Robison added a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle. He touched the wall in 1:43.85, a Sheehan record. He was seeded third heading into the event, but slashed his qualifying time of 1:46.24.
In other events, Sheehan junior Robbie Hacku placed third in the 200 IM with 2:01.01. He was seeded third heading into the final heat and held it. He trimmed his qualifying time drastically from a 2:03.68.
The Titans also had two relays in the final heats. Linus Koepfer, Robison, Hacku and Thurston finished fifth in the 200 freestyle relay (130.82) and were third in the 400 free relay (3:21.1). Sheehan broke a school record in the 400.
Lyman Hall finished fifth in the 400 free in 3:24.60 with the team of Rob Driscoll, Tyler Swanson, Carlo Arellano and Neri.
Alex May, Swanson, Neri and Driscoll placed seventh in the 200 free relay in 1:31.85. That was a school record.
Individually, Driscoll finished ninth in the 500 with a school record of 4:53.5.
“We had some great performances and I’m very happy for Kyle,” LH coach Donna Neary said.
Cargan said he was pleased with his team, which finished sixth overall.
“We swam bananas today,” the Sheehan coach said. “Our medley relay went three seconds faster. Then Connor broke the school record in the 200 freestyle. Carl broke the 50 record and Connor destroyed the 500 free. From top to bottom, it was just amazing overall.”