SOUTHINGTON — When the calendar makes the turn to September, scholastic swimmers and divers are normally well on their way to revving up for the fall season. However, this year has been anything but ordinary for athletes and coaches.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams have had to adjust to schedule changes and new guidelines.
“It is the same challenges that we are trying to do on a day-to-day basis. Whether we are looking to get back in the classroom or going to work, we need to be flexible right now,” said Southington coach Evan Tuttle. “You want to ensure the safety of the kids and coaches while also allowing the athletes to compete.”
In the current fall plan updated by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference on Aug. 27, swim and dive teams were able to start practicing last Saturday in cohorts of 10. If the health metrics stay positive through Sept. 20, the CIAC feels it will have enough data from students being in school to decide if it’s safe to proceed with full-team practices.
“As coaches, you are trying to follow all of the guidelines from the CIAC and health department,” stated Lyman Hall coach Donna Neary. “I brought a tape measure to practice to show the the kids what six feet (apart) is.”
Lyman Hall has worked out time to practice at Sheehan. Neary has set up two cohorts that will alternate for practice.
“I don’t have an assistant right now, so I can’t be in two places at once,” explained Neary. “I was concerned that the restrictions would keep our team apart, but most of the girls know each other already. I have four captains, two in each cohort, to keep them organized.”
Starting on Wednesday, Lyman Hall divers will practice separately with the Sheehan team.
“It will be different for my kids to have morning workouts,” said Neary.
Back on July 6, the CIAC allowed swimmers and divers to condition in cohorts, but after the Connecticut Department of Public Health took issue with some facets of the CIAC fall sports plan, that conditioning was put on hold from Aug. 14-24.
While collaborating with DPH to resolve those differences, the CIAC has received the state’s blessing to restart non-contact workouts.
“I feel very positive about my team this year,” said Tuttle. “The restrictions this season make it tough because we have talent and depth from our freshmen to senior classes. It is important to get the best possible experience for our kids, especially the seniors.”
Swimming and diving is classified as a low-risk sport for spreading COVID-19, but that designation doesn’t come without safety protocols for participants.
“Coaches mask up at all times and maintain social distancing. Swimmers also wear masks when they are out of the pool,” explained Tuttle. “We are taking temperature checks and doing screening every day.”
While many squads are awaiting regional-based schedules, Southington has opted to pursue virtual meets in which swimmers compete against teammates in their respective pool and compare times with opponents. The Blue Knights compete at the Southington YMCA, which is allowing up to 25 people on their pool deck at a time.
“Under the current guidelines, in-person competition doesn’t work for us right now,” said Tuttle. “(Virtual) doesn’t have the same energy as having the pool deck jam-packed, but it is still a good way to compete against your peers.”
Cheshire Athletic Director Steve Trifone says that the Rams aren’t currently looking at holding virtual meets, but will consider the idea if other schools are unable to get pool time.
“The biggest challenge for us is the lack of locker room space,” stated Trifone. “The girls won’t use it for storage. They will come dressed and then go back home.”
Trifone feels fortunate to have the Cheshire Community Pool, an Olympic-sized facility, right across the street from CHS.
“We have a large pool that can accommodate a lot of people,” said Trifone. “There is room for the girls and coaches to social distance.”
Coached by Dave Modzelewski, the Rams are coming off a stellar 2019 season in which they logged their sixth straight unbeaten season and eighth consecutive Southern Connecticut Conference championship. Cheshire also won the Class LL crown for the first time in a decade and then captured its first State Open title since 2004.
“The program has had a lot of success,” said Trifone. “Dave does a great job with the team. The girls carry on the tradition and work hard in the pool.”
This year, the CIAC is letting swim and dive teams schedule up to 12 regular-season meets and then see if they can have a tournament experience in November.
“I’d love to see everyone on our team do some personal bests (times and scores),” said Neary, who is open to the idea of holding virtual meets. "With the breaks that the girls have had this year, I think that rest could help them.”