In a normal winter season, the St. John’s Prep swim team would be preparing to mount title defenses in both the Catholic Conference and Division I state meet (shooting for its sixth straight state title).
But for the swimmers, it is business as usual: Positivity, high expectations, and lofty goals of shattering swim records occupies their minds.
“I’m really thankful we have a pool to practice in because I know a lot of teams who can’t get in the water two times a week,” said captain Will Connolly, a returning Globe All-Scholastic, one of 13 seniors on the roster. “I’m just glad we have a lot of time to get in the water and have scrimmages whenever we want so we can have as many meets as we want within our team.”
“Sadly we’re not in the states or sectionals this year, but we’re a fast team and we’re looking to break some records,” said senior captain Andrew Coady, who is eyeing the virtual Catholic Conference championship meet, scheduled for Feb. 13, to push for the pool records.
The school record for the 200-yard medley relay sits at 1:34.46, first set at the 2012 Division I states by Aaron Athanas, Ryan Fortin, Alex Swaim, and John Bateman and again in 2018 by Oliver Zmetrovich, Wills D’Angelo, Neal Mahoney, and Mitchell Lockwood. The 200-yard freestyle relay record sits at 1:27.05, first set in 2014 by Andrew Gillie, Joseph Turk, Anthony Petrozza, and Swaim again.
Last season, the medley relay team registered 1:36.59 at Division I states — finishing roughly two seconds behind the record holders. The freestyle relay team came agonizingly close to breaking the school’s record: clocking in at 1:27.66 — placing just half a second behind.
In the past, Prep would enter the season knowing the composition of its relay teams. With just one departure from last season’s medley and freestyle relay teams however, the team has opted for a different approach.
“We have so many swimmers that can have a certain spot and there’s only one spot that needs to be filled, but there’s four different kids who could fill it,” said Connolly. “When we’re doing 50-yard sprints, we’re seeing who can get the best times and who can get that spot because we all know whoever is getting that spot is getting their name on the record books this year.”
But the new challenges posed by the pandemic meant the team is walking a fine line to ensure a successful season. Prep opened its season with a 147-39 victory over St. John’s (Shrewsbury) and is currently waiting for its second opponent of the season, BC High, to finish its events so the results can be compiled.
“The hardest part for us is not having anyone to race against and not being able to cheer during events,” said senior captain Kai Zola, who has committed to The College of New Jersey. “It’s been unfortunate with COVID and people getting it, but we’re making it work.”
The pandemic’s interference struck earlier in the school year when the water polo season got canceled; a major blow for many on the swim team who are also part of the water polo team. However, the disappointment from water polo’s cancellation has only served as motivation.
“From day one, Coach [Jeff Fiore]said we’re going to have a meet where we train for and we’re going to go for those big times,” said Coady. “That’s really kept us going and it’s good motivation for coming into this season and knowing we’ll have that big meet in February.”
Fiore praised his team’s resilience and attitude.
“They’ve just been rolling with the punches and just being so flexible,” he said.
“They’re leading by example, hard work, setting the tone, and making it as good as we can given the circumstances.”
With practices split up into different cohorts because of the size of the team, the captains have spent extra time and effort to help the junior varsity team whenever it can.
“I think [graduate Mitchell Lockwood] was the best captain I’ve ever had and I still talk about him to the younger kids on the team so they still know who he is,” said Connolly, who will reunite with his former captain at Connecticut College. “You can leave a legacy on the record books but you can also leave a legacy through the other kids on the team. I want to leave a legacy in both ways.”
Ultimately, Fiore believes the seniors’ dedication to the swim program is paying off to keep their teammates motivated and eager to be part of the swim program.
▪ The graduation of Aaron Zhu, the Globe’s Swimmer of the Year, has not slowed down the Chelmsford boys’ swim team. Zhu, now a freshman at MIT, was the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP last season and won gold in the 200 individual medley (1:52.14) at the Division 1 state meet.
Connor Quirbach, a Globe All-Scholastic as a sophomore, recently notched wins in the 200 free and 100 fly in the Lions’ wins over Andover and Haverhill.
Fellow MVC All-Stars sophomore Declan Hughes (sophomore) and diver Sean Hayes (senior captain) have helped the Lions to a 4-0 start.
▪ The Cape Ann League had a delayed start, but the Ipswich and North Reading girls started 2-0.
The Tigers and the Hornets will face off in a virtual format for temporary CAL supremacy this week, starting on Wednesday. On the boys’ side, North Reading is also 2-0.
▪ It’s been more than two weeks since the four-time defending Division 2 state champion Wayland boys have seen the pool. After opening the season with a narrow 93-85 win over Weston on Jan. 11, the Warriors will dive back into competition with a virtual meet against Concord-Carlisle this week.
Correspondent Emma Healy also contributed.