Wallingford swimmers lead the charge into the state class meets. Basketball players with ties to Meriden have reached the final four.
That’s how it stands on the local front as we steam into championship week in CIAC sports.
Wait, better make that “bundle and stamp” rather than “steam.” This winter season, as the lingering snow and cold attests, ain’t over yet.
Tuesday is the big day in the march to the weekend finals at Mohegan Sun Arena and Yale University’s Kiputh Pool.
Meriden’s Kiah Gillespie, just named the Gatorade girls basketball player of the year in Connecticut, leads unbeaten and top-seeded Capital Prep of Hartford into the Class L semifinals against No. 4 Ledyard at Bacon Academy in Colchester.
On the other side of the Class L bracket, Meriden’s Russ Crist, head coach at Farmington, leads his No. 2 Indians, fresh from their quarterfinal win over Lyman Hall, into a semifinal date with No. 3 Weaver in Plainville.
And in yet another hoop semifinal with a touch of Silver City, Mustapha Heron, the 6-foot-6 sophomore out of Meriden, leads No. 3 Sacred Heart-Waterbury into a match-up with No. 10 Bloomfield at Avon with the right to go to the boys Class S final on the line.
All of those basketball games are Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, in the Class M boys swimming championships at Wesleyan University, the spotlight will be on the boys of Wallingford.
Lyman Hall and Sheehan each had huge days at the state qualifying meets on Saturday. Each landed a pair of No. 1 seeds in the Class M meet. Each broke school records.
Where to begin?
How about with Kyle Neri. The Lyman Hall senior, overcoming an ankle injury and seemingly hitting his peak at exactly the right time, broke the school record in the 50-yard freestyle with a qualifying time of 21.77 seconds that earned him the No. 1 seed in Class M.
Neri also reeled in the No. 1 seed in the 100 free by lopping two seconds off his seed time with a qualifying touch of 47.64.
For good measure, Neri joined senior Tyler Swanson, junior Carlo Arellano and sophomore Robbie Driscoll on the 200 freestyle relay. The quartet set a new LH record at 1:32.37 in qualifying for Tuesday’s championship race as the No. 5 seed.
The Titans got in on the school-record act, as well, when freshman Linus Koepfer joined Sheehan’s Big Three of seniors Carl Thurston and Rob Hacku and sophomore Connor Robison for a 3:21.26 in the 400 freestyle relay.
That time gave the team the No. 1 seed for Tuesday. (The same foursome, by the way, is seeded No. 2 in the 200 free at 1:31.13.)
Individual, Robison earned the No. 1 spot in the 500 freestyle at 4:45.83. This wasn’t too much of a surprise. Though only a sophomore, Robison is a defending state class champion in high school swimming’s longest race.
Last year, it was in Class S. This year, in Class M, Robison’s closest challenger heading into Tuesday is Torrington junior Jack Wassik, who qualified at 4:47.51.
Lyman Hall junior Alex May dropped nearly 10 seconds off his previous-best 500 time, going from 5:11.97 to 5:02.11, to take the No. 7 seed.
In all, the Titans and Trojans have 12 entries in the championship heats, including four No. 1’s. With Sheehan’s Thurston snaring the No. 2 in the 100 freestyle at 48.58 just behind Neri, that event stands to be quite the Wallingford showcase on Tuesday.
All of this is uncommon. While the Wallingford schools have had individuals shine in the state class swim meets in the past, they’ve seldom brought the sort of depth that will make them factors in the team standings.
Usually, that status is reserved locally to Cheshire.
But talk about a pool turned upside down. This year, competing in Wednesday’s Class LL meet, typically the most grueling, the Rams have just one championship heat qualifier. That’s sophomore Karl Bishop, who’s the No. 7 seed in the 500 at 4:50. (As a comparative note, that time would have made him No. 3 in Class M.)
The top area swimmer to watch in Class LL is Meriden’s Tyler Prescott. A standout in multiple events since his freshman year, the holder of multiple Platt records, Prescott will go for gold in his farewell postseason in the 200 individual medley and in the 100 backstroke.
He’s seeded No. 3 in the backstroke (54.05) and No. 6 in the IM (1:57.07). Prescott also joined Ahmad Hamdan, Preston Lewis and Maciej Skrzypczak and helped propel the team to the No. 6 seed in the championship heat of the 200 freestyle relay at 1:33.41.
Top performers from Tuesday and Wednesday’s four class swim meets at Wesleyan will qualify for Saturday’s State Open at Yale. At the same time, the state’s eight boys and girls basketball championship games will be getting under way at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Kiputh and Mohegan have been the ultimate destinations for winter athletes since they hit the pool and the hardwood back in early December. It’s been a long march, and turned out to be a just a dream for most. For these locals, it remains very real.