SWIMMING: No. 1 seeds lead local squads into state class meets

Two state champions are back to defend individual titles.

Three locals hold No. 1 seeds and all five area teams have multiple qualifiers in championship heats.

Just how splashy the headlines get for area girls swimmers will be seen over the next three days at the CIAC class championships.

Lyman Hall and the Class M schools get it started Monday at Southern Connecticut State University. Sheehan and the Class S schools are there Tuesday.

Cornerstone Aquatics of West Hartford hosts the big-school meets — Cheshire and Class L on Tuesday; Southington, Meriden and Class LL on Wednesday.

Cheshire was runner-up to Darien in Class L a year ago, and those two squads will again be among the top contenders in the team standings.

The Rams have two of the area’s three No. 1 seeds in junior IM’er Julia Barto and sophomore backstroker Natalie Gajecki. They also have the reigning Class L 100-yard freestyle champ in senior Avery Potyrala, seeded No. 3 this year.

The third No. 1 area seed? Lyman Hall senior Elise Richardson, who won Class M backstroke a year ago and holds the top seed this season.

Richardson is also the reigning Class M champ in the 100 freestyle. She’s seeded fourth this time around.

All seeds were determined at the qualifying meets held Friday and Saturday at SCSU, Cornerstone and Cheshire Community Pool.

Take them as you will. Some swimmers go all out in qualifying; some keep a little something in the tank. 

The main purpose of qualifying is to sort out the championship races from the consolation heats. Unlike at the State Open, you’ve got be in a championship heat to take gold. These are the locals who will smim in class finals. All meets start at 6 p.m.

■Class M (Lyman Hall), Monday at SCSU

Last season, the Class M meet was magic for LH. The Trojans captured the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and celebrated the two individiual triumphs from Richardson.

Richardson, the 2022 SCC Division II Swimmer of the Year, is back along with relay-mate Hailey Baker. With Caroline Krawec and Elena Bielesz lost to graduation, they now swim with freshman Grace D’Amico on the medley, senior Cassie Wentzell on the 200 free and sophomore Meredith Loughlin, who anchors both.

The two relays are in the finals. The medley is seeded fifth (1:55.51) and the freestyle sixth (1:45.20).

Individually, Richardson and Baker are in two finals each. Richardson swam a 58.53 to gain the top seed by nearly three seconds in the backstroke and a 53.91 to take No. 3 in the 100 free.

Baker is seeded fourth in the breaststroke (1:08.69) and fifth in the butterfly (1:03.21).

Amico qualified in the backstroke. At 1:03.67, she’s fourth behind Richardson.

■Class S (Sheehan), Tuesday at SCSU

This meet could be a coming-out-party for the fantastic freshmen who fueled Sheehan’s 9-2 dual meet season.

Then again, the swim community already knows who they are.

Rookies Kaylynn Chen and Isabelle Hodum qualified for two finals each and, with junior Hanna Nagy Leranth, are in the championship heats of both freestyle relays. The trio combines with senior Jenna Kent on the 200 (4th, 1:46.15) and freshman Jae Welch on the 400 (2nd, 3:48.96).

That 3:48.96 in the 400 is a new school record. So is the 55.90 Chen swam to earn the No. 5 seed in the 100 freestyle. The time broke a Sheehan mark that had stood for 26 years.

Chen is also No. 7 in the 50 free (25.76), while Hodum and Nagy Leranth hold a pair of 5’s — Hodum in the 200 freestyle (2:01.19), Nagy Leranth in the breaststroke (1:13.16). Hodum is also No. 8 in the 500 free (5:29.88).

■Class L (Cheshire), Tuesday at Cornerstone Aquatics

Fresh from returning to the top of the SCC at the conference championship meet, the Rams now look to return to the top of Class L.

If they follow the example Julia Barto set in qualifying, they’ll be fine.

Barto secured the top seed in the 200 IM by lopping more than seven seconds off her previous time with a 2:03.56. Two other girls, Hall senior Meghan Tiernan and Darien junior Miller Ward, also qualified in under 2:04, so this race looms as a dandy.

Overall, the IM is a great event for CHS. Senior Julianna Tyler is the No. 4 seed (2:08.83) and junior Grace Hanke the No. 8 (2:18.18). Tyler is also fourth in the butterfly (57.60).

The backstroke is another marquee event for Cheshire. Natalie Gajecki (56.90) and Barto (58.92) rank 1-2.

Gajecki, in the midst of a breakout sophomore season, will also contend in the 50 free (No. 4, 24.80).

SCC Division I swimmer of the year Avery Potyrala ranks third in both the 100 free (54.05) and 200 free (1:57.31), and will combine with Barto, Gajecki and Tyler on the 200 medley and 400 freestyle. Both relays hold No. 2 seeds.

Cheshire is also in the hunt in 200 free relay, seeded No. 4 with Hanke, senior Vanessa Squillante, and sophomores Carly Cahill and Julia Tejeda.

Tejeda, the anchor, is also in the finals of the 200 free (8th, 2:01.09) and the 500 free (6th, 5:22.50).

■Class LL (Meriden, Southington), Wednesday at Cornerstone

Maloney freshman Addison Markoja and SHS junior Ella Nadeau lead the Co-op and the Lady Knights into West Hartford.

Markoja will contend in both distance freestyles. She’s seeded No. 3 in the 500 (5:11.64) and No. 6 in the 200 (1:55.90), the two events she dominated during the dual meets.

Nadeau is seeded No. 5 in 100 breaststroke (1:07.90). That’s a new Southington record.

Nadeau also just broke the school record in the 200 free (1:56.11) at the CCC West Championships. In Class LL qualifying, though, Nadeau’s time rose to 1:56.36 and she just missed the cut at No. 9.

Ditto for Nadeau’s junior teammate Julia Laszewski. She was ninth in both the backstroke (1:02.76) and IM (2:19.15). Meriden’s Sarah Kim got the eighth and final slot in the backstroke at 1:02.09.

Both teams have relays in 200 medley and 400 freestyle finals.

In the medley, Southington is No. 4 (1:52.58) with Laszewski, Nadeau, junior Veronica Okurowski and senior Alexis Strong. Meriden is No. 8 (1:56.34) with Markoja, Kim, senior Maddie Fitzgerald and junior Rylie Benigni.

In the 400 free, Laszewski leads off and Nadeau anchors sophomore Mariam Labadze and freshman Alexis Nguyen (5th, 3:46.67). Junior Kamryn Yepez joins Benigni, Kim and Markoja on Meriden’s No. 8 unit (3:40.39).

Southington holds No. 8 in the 200 free relay after Strong, Okurowski, Labadze and junior Kyra-Thien Nguyen combined on a 1:45.74.


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