Boys swimming is the sport that mirrored our emergence out of the darkest days of pandemic winter.
High school teams got the go-ahead for their season in mid-January at a time when the state, its draconian restrictions on sports still in place since Thanksgiving, was limiting swimming to one person per pool lane.
That rule was soon rolled back and, by the time the swim season ended, COVID-19 case numbers were in decline and vaccinations were on the rise.
The boys swim season was a healthy one, even if there were no state championships waiting to be had. School records were set. Conference championships were claimed.
A strong cast of seniors led the way. Joey Zellner finished off one of the best swimming careers Sheehan has ever seen, while Justin Finkel and his classmates maintained Cheshire’s vaunted tradition even amidst a coaching change just before the start of the season.
Among the top underclassmen was Southington junior Landon Colby, who accounted for 24 victories in seven dual meets for the Blue Knights.
All three of our finalists for Record-Journal Boys Swimmer of the Year were All-State. All three set school records.
Colby’s came in the 100-yard butterfly, where his Central Connecticut Conference runner-up time of 52 seconds flat broke a Southington mark that had stood for 28 years.
Colby was also second in the CCC in the 200 individual medley in 2:00.57.
During the regular season, he won 12 individual races in five different events and swam legs on 12 winning relays as Southington went 6-1.
Further south on Route 10, Finkel was the sparkplug for the 8-2 Cheshire Rams. The senior tri-captain won 15 individual races in five different events and was part of nine first-place relays.
He had the area’s top times in the 200 freestyle (1:48.63) and 500 free (4:43.79) and made it a third in the postseason when he won the SCC championship in the 100 butterfly. Finkel’s time of 51.21 broke predecessor Ben Brewer’s school record.
Finkel also swam on Cheshire’s SCC-champion 400 freestyle relay. He was ultimately named the SCC Division I swimmer of the year.
Zellner, meanwhile, earned Most Outstanding Swimmer laurels after the SCC virtual championship meet times were totalled. A four-time conference champ over the course of his career, Zellner won the 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke this time around.
When it was all over, Zellner held three Sheehan records: 50 freestyle (21.32), 100 freestyle (47.10), 200 individual medley (1:57.77).
Those were all area-best times. So was Zellner’s SCC-winning mark of 58.01 in the breastroke, which wasn’t far off from Josh Bjornberg’s school-record of 57.20.
Still, there’s a lot of “Zellner” that remains on the record board at the Sheehan pool.
Zellner now heads to Division I swimming at Loyola-Maryland. Finkel is going to swim at D-III Connecticut College.
Colby? He’ll lead the returning wave of area talent in a season in which swimmers will be fully back in person, lining up six and eight lanes across, competing for a state title at the end of the line.