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SCHOOL SWIMMING NOTEBOOK

At Milford, opportunity for in-person meets this winter was something to cheer

Milford High was safely able to host Hockomock League swim meets during the winter season.
Milford High was safely able to host Hockomock League swim meets during the winter season.MILFORD HIGH ATHLETICS

When the starting horn went off for Milford’s first meet of the year, crowd noise erupted through the pool. Meet official Pete Foley whipped around to the 60 students sitting socially distanced in the balcony behind him, but saw them all sitting silently.

The swimmers weren’t allowed to cheer, so Milford, the only team in Eastern Mass. to host in-person swim meets at its high school pool, put together simulated crowd noise pumped through the pool’s sound system.

“It was a real swim meet with cheering,” Milford coach David Chaplin said. “We did it all year, and people loved it.”

The process to make it that way, however, wasn’t easy. Chaplin rattled off all of the numbers, dimensions, facts, and figures it took to make home meets happen, all of which were possible because of the uniqueness of Milford’s facility.

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The pool features a balcony with separate entrances and exits set apart from the pool deck. The normally 300-person capacity balcony can support 60 swimmers 6 feet apart. They sat in the “bullpen balcony,” as Chaplin called it, while the next 12 swimmers to compete on each team sat on socially distanced benches on the pool deck.

Before each event, the swimmers had to leave the building entirely to re-enter the pool deck from an external door. In the dead of Massachusetts winter, going outside in a swimsuit is a dangerous game.

“We actually got very lucky with the weather,” Milford senior captain Eva Parson said. “Most of our home meets were on Wednesdays, and for whatever reason, there was usually pretty nice weather. … You only had to go outside for all of like four seconds, but still, it’s almost a mental thing. It messes you up to go like outside right before your race.”

Extra coats and towels were a must-have, Parson said.

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As the first six swimmers departed the on-deck benches for the blocks, Chaplin, the self-proclaimed “ringmaster” orchestrated the shift of six more swimmers from the bullpen to the deck through the speaker system.

“It was definitely very different, but it had to be done because we still managed to get through every single meet this year,” senior captain Josh Kravets said. “So it really benefited [us] going through all the guidelines and the rules.”

On senior night, Milford’s 21-person roster and Franklin’s combined fell below the 60-person maximum, meaning that Milford senior parents had the rare chance to watch their swimmers’ final high school meet.

“A lot of our parents have been used to watching it online, just the live stream,” Parson said. “And so for them to be able to see us swim one last time, you know, it felt really nice. And it was special for them and it was nice to look up there and see them. … It felt like one of the more normal nights that we’ve had.”

In-person meets also created the necessity for a handful of added parent volunteers. Three parents from each team volunteered to serve as timers — as is the case with high school swimming normally — but COVID-19-related changes added another job for the parents.

One parent from each team served as the designated mask carrier, who would move swimmers’ face masks sealed in plastic bags from behind the starting blocks down to the shallow end of the pool for once the race was over.

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Nonetheless, the swimmers had the opportunity for genuine head-to-head competition, which was rare in Massachusetts high school swimming this season.

“To [the swimmers], they were swimming against somebody, and that made them go faster, definitely,” Chaplin said. “You know, it gave you that sense of competition. I think it was palpable for the kids, especially for the ones that had done virtual stuff ahead of time.”

King Phillip and Franklin also swam their home meets at Milford, but the vast majority of the Hockomock League was used to a virtual format for most of the season. For other teams, arriving at Milford was a shock, Chaplin said.

“The officials came in, and one woman said, ‘This is the most people I’ve seen in one place in a long time,’” Chaplin said. “There was a level of excitement that made people happy, I think, to see something going on that was representative of what used to be normal, as out of the norm as it was.”

Milford, on the other hand, swam just one virtual meet all season, a dual meet against Taunton.

The Scarlet Hawks finished their season last weekend with the Hockomock League championship, which took place mostly in person at Milford’s home pool. The format was unusual: seven teams competed in pods of two (Milford swam an extra time as exhibition competition for North Attleborough). The remaining five teams competed virtually.

It was a far-from-normal way to end the season, and though Franklin took home the girls’ championship and Sharon took home the boys’, Parson and her teammates were just happy to compete as normally as possible.

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“An irregular swim meet feels like the most regular thing that you can be doing right now,” Parson said.

Diving in

▪ The Wayland boys and Westford Academy girls won the Dual County League titles in virtual settings this past week.

Wayland (546 points) edgedWestford Academy (505.50), Weston (360.50) and Newton South (350.50).

In the girls’ meet, Westford Academy (509) surged past Wayland (468) and Concord-Carlisle (461.50) .

Wayland boys won all three relays, but the 200 medley relay team — consisting of Lucas Pralle, Jiming Xu, Jason Shu, and Armen Abrahamian — registered a time of 1:35.42, breaking the league record (1:37.92) set in 2016. All four swimmers also won an individual event each. Xu broke his own 100 breaststroke record, set last year, with a time of 56.95. And Weston’s Theo Bodet broke the DCL meet record (1:55.36, set in 1992) for the 200 IM with a time of 1:55.31.

There were three double winners for the girls. Weston’s Jacey Hinton set a DCL meet/league record in the 50 freestyle (23.39) and a DCL meet record in the 100 freestyle (50.99). Westford Academy’s Kate Edison took the 200 freestyle (1:54.18) and 500 freestyle (5:12.53) events while Concord-Carlisle freshman Alana Leen won the 200 IM (2:07.89) and the 100 backstroke (57.99).

▪ The Nantucket boys and girls swept the Cape & Islands championship swim meets last Thursday. The boys placed first with 300 points, defeating Sandwich (226 points) and Martha’s Vineyard (135 points), while the girls cruised to 516 points, followed by Nauset (252 points) and Barnstable (236 points) .

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The Whalers had six double winners: Grant Beebe (50 freestyle, 21.89, and 100 butterfly, 50.82), Justin Roethke (100 freestyle, 51.26, and 100 backstroke, 58.53), Kevin Johnson (200, 2:03.05, and 100 breaststroke, 1:03.20), Emily Dussault (200 IM, 2:20.45, and 100 butterfly, 1:04.07), Emma Davis (50 freestyle, 25.60, and 100 freestyle, 55.54), and Sophie Gerardi (200 freestyle, 1:58.86, and 500 freestyle, 5:21.85).

▪ In the Cape Ann League championships, the Lynnfield boys dominated the field with 617 points, with North Reading/Wilmington (353 points) and Triton (305 points) finishing second and third. The North Reading/Wilmington girls won with 532 points, followed by Ipswich (452 points) and Triton (443 points).

Hamilton-Wenham’s Micah Katz three-peated in diving, his score of 296.025 breaking his record (275.85) set last year. North Reading/Wilmington had three double winners: Kristina Valenti (100 freestyle, 56.85, and 200 freestyle, 2:03.52), Kyla Kelley (200 IM, 2:13.51, and 500 freestyle (5:15.01), and Ethan Ryan (200 IM, 2:12.41) and 100 breaststroke, 1:05.57). Triton’s Henry Brien took the 50 free (23.90) and 100 butterfly (58.87).

▪ While the Northeastern Conference did not host a championship meet, Marblehead senior Brian Coleman was a stalwart.

“His goal was to break some of the pool records this year,” said Marblehead coach Susan Guertin. “That was the incentive because they didn’t have competition from another team so that really helped out a lot to be able to have some goal.”

The senior broke the school’s 100 backstroke record with a time of 52.95 in a virtual meet against Danvers and the school’s 100 butterfly record with a time of 49.72 against Gloucester. He also helped break the school’s 200 medley (1:43.22), 200 freestyle relay (1:35.50), and the 400 freestyle relay (3:23.83) records along with teammates Jack Grady, Cole Brooks, and Theo Chemel.

Coleman did not swim as a junior as he focused on preparing for the Olympic trials. But he returned to lift Marblehead to a 6-1 record in the Northeastern Conference. He will swim collegiately at Williams College.

Correspondent Andrew Lin contributed to this story.