WALLINGFORD — With Cheshire girls swimming copping the Class LL and State Open championships this fall, area boys teams have an almost impossible act to follow this winter.
This doesn’t mean the boys won’t generate their share of headlines this winter.
Starting with this one: “Cheshire defeats Sheehan in season opener.”
The two SCC squads kicked off the 2019-20 season at the Sheehan pool on Thursday evening and the Division I Rams had little trouble posting a 98-73 victory over the Titans, the two-time reigning SCC Division II champs.
It was the start of what should be another strong season for Cheshire, which went 9-2 a year ago and placed third in Class L.
The Rams did graduate Joe Cannata, who is now swimming at Fairfield University. They also bid farewell to coach Megan McGorry, who had to step down due to job commitments, but welcomed back her predecessor, Kevin Reeder.
Reeder returns brimming with optimism.
“We will be a contender with Fairfield Prep and Xavier in the SCC and should be one of the top 10 teams in the state,” Reeder remarked. “We should win a lot of meets with our depth.”
Exhibit A: Thursday’s season opener against Sheehan. The Rams got first-place finishes from seven different swimmers.
Fittingly, Cheshire’s top returning senior, Sam Hanke, got the Rams fast off the blocks. Hanke swam the lead legs on the 200 medley relay (1:45.45) as well as the 200 freestyle relay (1:36.77). He was joined by fellow captain Nick Brunetti on each.
Hanke, who will swim at the Uni
versity of South Carolina, also touched first in his signature event, the 100 backstroke, in 55.20. By then, the Rams were swimming on exhibition.
Last year, the backstroke was one of three events Hanke won at the SCC Championships — the individual 200 freestyle and 200 free relay were the others. By the end of the season, Hanke was All-State in the backstroke after placing second in Class LL and again at the State Open.
The 51.33 Hanke swam in the Open stands as Cheshire’s backstroke record.
Junior Harrison Hua is another Ram to watch this winter. On Thursday, he showed his freestyle prowess, sprinting to victory in the 50 in 24:07 and going the distance in the 500 in 5:12.23.
Hua was also on the 200 free relay with Hanke, Brunetti and Hayden Curello.
Brunetti won the other freestyle sprint, taking the 100 in 57.73.
The up-and-coming Rams look good, too. Scoring opening-night wins were sophomores Vincent Zhu (200 IM, 2:06.18), Anmol Sapru (100 butterfly, 58.47) and Edward Chen (100 breaststroke, 1:02.01).
Zhu and Sapru teamed with yet another sophomore, Wesley Johnson, on the first-place 400 freestyle relay (3:45.22). Senior Donald Demollari rounded out that quartet.
Chen and Sapru combined with Hanke and Brunetti on the 200 medley.
Sheehan’s top swimmer in Thursday’s opener was Joey Zellner, and that was no surprise. Last year, as a sophomore, Zellner won the 100 freestyle at the SCC Championships and placed second in the 100 breaststroke at Class S state meet. He qualified for the State Open in both events.
Against Cheshire, Zellner captured the 200 freestyle in 1:56.67 and was credited with winning the 100 breaststroke in 1:07.40.
Another top returning swimmer for Sheehan, Adam DiDomenico, earned first-place points in the backstroke. His time was 1:02.07.
The Titans did lose some key pieces from their back-to-back SCC Division II title teams. Tops on that list is Andrew Buehler. A three-time state class diving champ, Buehler is now at Southern Connecticut State.
His departure made for a wide-open field in diving in Thursday’s opener. The event was won by Cheshire’s Noah Duncan with a score of 209.00.Next up
Cheshire-Sheehan was the first meet in town for the 2019-20. Season openers for the area’s three other boys swim programs are right around the corner, starting with Friday’s Lyman Hall/Coginchaug-Xavier meet at Sheehan.
The Trojans, in their eighth season under head coach Donna Neary and assistant Stephanie Lavado-Berghorn, are looking to build on a 3-10, 3-3 SCC Division II campaign.
They are led by senior captains Nathan Strang and Josh Ramirez as well as junior captains InHwa Ferretti and Alex Zelaya.
The Co-op also features diver Elyse Boothroyd. The Coginchaug junior broke school records last year and placed third in the SCC and eighth in Class M.
Strang and Ramirez were also state-meet qualifiers along with senior Cam Nielsen, junior Cam Baker and sophomore Sydney Raffles.
The incoming freshmen to watch are Kendrick Lagamao and Ryan Christopolous.
“We have a very large group this year — over 30 swimmers and divers,” Neary noted. “Should be fun.”
As for the Southington boys, they do not open the season until the new year, when they venture down Route 10 to face Cheshire at the Cheshire Community Pool.
The Blue Knights did graduate eight seniors from last year’s 7-4 squad, including State Open diver Chase Galayda, who owns the program 6- and 11-dive records.
They bring back a wealth of talent, including senior diver E.J .Suski, who went to the State Open with Galayda.
Ben Ragozzine, one of the senior captains, is yet another Southington diver with postseason experience.
So, as 10th-year coach Evan Tuttle notes, “Even though the team lost a significant number of athletes, there is an equal number of key returners.”
Program veterans Tyler Heidgerd, Derek Melanson and Brian Egan return for their senior campaign. The three captains teamed with then-freshman Landon Colby to win the 2019 CCC West championship in the 400 freestyle relay and ultimately qualify for the State Open.
Heidgerd also won a CCC West title in the backstroke and later reached the State Open in the 100 freestyle.
Additional returning seniors who will serve as captains are Kyle Buchanan, Jon Cocchiola and Gianna Wadowski.
Colby and junior Jackson Malsheske are the leading underclassmen. A large freshman class of 14, including four divers, swell the ranks.
“Our team overall goal this year, as it is each year, is to advance as many athletes to the state tournament as possible,” Tuttle remarked. “Although the winter swim season is the longest season of any high school sport, we aim to make it as long as possible by advancing as far as possible. We have a strong core group of student-athletes who have been working tirelessly in the offseason to make this their best year yet.”