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Friday, December 6 High School Sports

Cheshire wins first State Open girls swimming title since 2004; Greenwich places second

NEW HAVEN — Winning the Class L title the last two years and numerous SCC championships over the past decade, the Cheshire girls swimming team has produced a pool full of memorable seasons.

Yet the Rams’ 2019 season will be recalled as one of perfection.

After claiming the team title at the SCC and Class LL championships, Cheshire concluded its season by achieving its ultimate goal Sunday at Yale University’s historic Kiphuth Pool.

Cheshire capped a season of perfection, winning its first CIAC State Open team title since 2004, totaling 428 team points. Greenwich, which finished first at the State Open Championships the previous four seasons, was the runner-up, finishing just eight points behind in the team standings (420). Staples placed third with 326 points, Darien was fourth (323.5), followed by Weston (284). Glastonbury (274), Hall (255), Wilton (251), New Canaan (227) and Ridgefield (210) rounded out the top-10 teams at the State Open, which included 42 squads.

Senior Julia Stevens and junior Sophie Murphy won two individual events apiece for the Rams, who also went undefeated during the regular season, before attaining a trifecta of championships in the postseason.

“This is our first State Open championship Since 2004, so what our team has accomplished is very impressive,” Cheshire coach Dave Modzelewski said. Greenwich swam amazing, hats off to them for swimming well. That pushes us to do well too. I couldn’t ask for more than what our team did.”

Said senior Jillian Stevens, one of Cheshire’s captains: “It’s so amazing, I loved everyone on this team, we all swam really great today and I am really happy that we were able to achieve this, because it was a goal that we set at the beginning of the season. We went undefeated and we came really close last year, so it’s great to go out like this.”

Greenwich, which was second behind Cheshire in the recent Class LL Championships, received a first-place finish from junior Meghan Lynch, who broke her own State Open record in the 200-yard individual medley. Trumbull sophomore Lauren Walsh broke a State Open record in winning the 100 breaststroke.

“We went into this meet knowing anything can happen,” GHS coach Lorrie Hokayem said. “We had great swim after great swim and I couldn’t be prouder of the team. To bring it down to eight points from Cheshire is fantastic. Hats off to Cheshire, they had a great meet and a great season, but I’m proud of our team.”

The State Open, which drew a large crowd, began with Greenwich’s 200-yard medley relay team of junior Samantha Ennis, Lynch, sophomore Caterina Li and senior Jenna Handali registering a winning time of 1:45.99. Trumbull’s foursome of senior Mia Zajac, sophomore Lauren Walsh, senior Ashleigh Piro and senior Julia Nevins placed second in 1:47.29, followed by Staples (1:47.80.

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In the 200 freestyle, Julia Stevens touched the wall first for Cheshire (1:51.97). Ridgefield junior Rylie Giles was second in 1:53.50, followed by Lauralton Hall sophomore Claire Kehley (1:53.93). Cheshire junior Nora Bergstrom finished fourth in 1:53.99 and Seymour freshman Sophia Velleco took fifth in 1:54.39.

“That was pretty exciting, Nora was in this event with me and we train every day together, so it was really exciting for both of us,” Julia Stevens said. “I ended up winning points for the team, which we needed, so that was exciting.”

The 200-yard individual medley saw Lynch break her State Open record from last season, clocking in at 1:59.50. Lynch set the state record in the 200 IM at Tuesday’s Class LL Championships (1:59.13). Walsh of Trumbull placed second (2:02.42), Weston junior Isabella Gary was third in 2:05.94, North Haven senior Angela Gambardella took fourth (2:06.95) and Wilton senior Ellen Holmquist finished fifth (2:07.58).

“That was a really fun race, like last race I was racing against Lauren Walsh, so I knew she was going to be right with me,” Lynch said.

Lynch was impressed with her Greenwich team’s results at the much-anticipated, season-ending meet.

“It was pretty incredible,” Lynch said. “We thought we were going to be in a close meet for second, because when we scored it out we were a good amount of points behind Cheshire. Knowing we were that close makes us so excited for next year.”

Murphy captured the gold medal in the 50 freestyle, touching the wall in 23.68 and giving her squad 30 significant points. Hunter of Staples placed an extremely close second (23.85) and right behind her was North Haven junior Maddie Bergin (23.90). Katrine O’Leary from Seymour took fourth (24.12), while Darien’s Natalia Ferranto and Masuk’s Elizabeth Stoelzel tied for fifth (24.27).

“It feels great, I just kept saying to myself that there’s no time like the present, especially in the 50, you just have to get up and go, because that’s all you can do,” said Hunter, who excelled in her final high school meet.

“It’s really sad, I am really nostalgic,” Hunter said. “I have watched past seniors graduate, but it’s also great and exciting, because we move on to new things.”

Ridgefield junior Hannah Seward earned top honors in the 100-yard butterfly (55.50), while Hall senior Aislinn Mitchell claimed the second place medal (56.31). Katherine O’Connor from Amity took third (56.73) and right behind her was Norwalk/McMahon’s Ashley Calderon (57.65).

“I felt pretty good in the 100 butterfly,” Seward said. “I definitely was tired swimming it, but the girl next to me gave me a race.

Said Mitchell: “I have gotten on the podium before, but last year I kind of had a tough season, so to get second feels good. I was really nervous at the start, but I’m definitely happy with my time. It’s hard to get your best time every single meet.”

In the 100 freestyle, Murphy notched a first-place finish, registering a time of 51.08. Fairfield Ludlowe senior Lily Kernaghan placed second in 52.16 and Seward of Ridgefield was third (52.26). Bergin of North Haven was fourth, followed by O’Leary (Seymour) and Darien senior Lexi Punishill.

“The 50 and 100 freestyle were both really exciting races,” Murphy said. “Everyone pushed me and the entire Cheshire team was cheering, which motivated me. “I was just trying to score as many points as I could for the team, so I was really happy with both of those swims.”

Swimming in consecutive events at such a venue was no problem for Seward.

“Back to back isn’t bad, practice every day is harder,” Seward said. “We have a lot of swimmers coming back next year, so I’m excited.”

Julia Stevens once again, showed her stamina, winning the 500 freestyle for Cheshire (4:59.55). Ridgefield’s Rylie Giles took second (5:02.34), followed by Bergstrom (5:02.55). The 200 freestyle relay title went to Darien’s quartet of Punishill, Lily Bradbury, Ferranto and Kendall Luecke.

“This was my last high school swim meet and last hoorah with my teammates,” Punishill said. “Our goal was to be in the top five and we knew going into the meet that we had to give everything we had and not waste anything.”

Staples took second in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:36.80. Hunter garnered the winner’s medal in the 100 backstroke (56.16), finishing just ahead of New Canaan’s Maddie Haley (56.19) and Greenwich junior Samantha Ennis (56.74).

“We knew going into it, the three of us were going to be right next to each other,” Ennis said. “They both had really great swims. It was really tough and I just tried to get to the wall as fast as I could. Our team had great energy going into this meet.”

Walsh’s time of 1:01.96 was a State Open record in the 100 breaststroke.

“I actually didn’t know I broke it,” Walsh said. “It’s kind of crazy and it was very exciting. I had really good swimmers next to me, so I just kept pushing through it. It shows that hard work pays off.”

Lynch posted a second-place time of 1:02.74, while Gambardella was third in 1:02.91. Gary and Weston teammate Nicole Linell tied for third (1:05.07).

“Swimming against two amazing swimmers like Lauren and Meghan makes me swim faster,” Gambardella said. “I like that type of competition. That was still my second-best time, so I’m happy.”

The meet ended with Greenwich winning the 400 freestyle relay in 3:32.14, Cheshire placing second (3:32.51) and Darien was third (3:33.85).

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“Winning the State Open is a dream, every single day since the beginning of the season, we were motivating each other,” Sophie Murphy said. “I understand why we did it, we pushed each other every single day.”

Said Cheshire’s Bergstrom: “Our whole entire team worked so hard for this all season — all 41 members of the team. We lost by just 15 points last year, so that served as huge motivation for our team. It took so much hard work.”

dfierro@greenwichtime.com

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