WORCESTER – Throughout the historical undefeated season, the Methuen/Tewksbury Co-Op/Co-Ed Swim team finished 10-0 and captured the program's fourth straight Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title. Along the way of the perfect regular season, the Red Rangers knocked off perennial state champions and contenders Andover and Chelmsford, among many other high quality opponents.
On Sunday, the MVC held its annual League Championship meet at WPI, but in this meet, there were no spectators (or media) allowed, and the co-ed team had to be split into two teams, the girls and the boys.
While there were no first places either as a team or individually, both teams swam extremely well. The girls finished sixth out of ten teams and the boys were the winners, overtaking the three other teams from Billerica, Dracut and Academy of Notre Dame.
“As is the case when you have a meet like that, you are never going to have every kid be satisfied when they walk away,” said head coach Jason Smith. “You're never going to have every kid swim their best time in every event. That's the goal is for everyone to come away with personal bests and being in tip-top condition and being rearing to go, but it's not always the case. (The MVC Meet) was a new atmosphere for a lot of those kids.
“We didn't have that meet last year so some of those kids were not exposed to a lot of big meet swims like that where you have a ton of kids, a ten-lane pool and an awesome facility like that. The meet can be a little overwhelming and there's not a lot of hands-on coaching. For every school, the coaches are kind of isolated so at this point of the season, a lot of it is up to the swimmers. With that being said, we had a lot of great swims and good performances.”
One of the many highlights on the girls' side was the sixth place finish from the 400-free relay, who not only dropped nine seconds off of their time, but qualified for both the sectional meet and the state meet, coming this weekend. That team consisted of Caitlyn Nims, Callie DeLano, Katie LeFebvre and Julia Galuska and they came in at 4:08.40. Nims was a late addition because Smith witnessed her great performance in the 100-freestyle and asked her if she could apply the same effort and energy into the relay race and she say yes, and certainly came through with almost the same identical 1:03.71 time.
The 'B' team of Jackie Gaigals, Jenny Nguyen, Rebecca MacLeod and Marissa Connolly finished tenth at 4:22.63.
Besides the sectional and state qualifying time in the 400-free relay, the four Tewksbury female members of the team all had strong days as well.
Senior Ada Nicodemus was part of the 14th place 200-medley 'B' team, along with Gaigals, Kristen LeBlanc and Johnnie Charest as they came in at 2:23.41. Nicodemus was also 28th in the 100-yard breaststroke finishing at 1:32.34 and was 33rd in the 200-freestyle at 3:04.38.
“I know Ada's probably not satisfied with the day that she had. I thought her relay swim was good. Then in the breaststroke, she was right around her (seeded) time and wasn't far off of that,” said Smith. “She was probably not thrilled with her 200-yard freestyle race, and I don't know if that's an event that she actually loves.
“I wish we had her for all four years. She's a really nice kid, she's a really good teammate, she's really supportive of everybody, and you can always use more kids like that regardless of how they swim. That's the type of kid that you are looking for. We are sad to see her go. I wish she was there freshman year and I know she couldn't be there last year. We are grateful for the two seasons that we had with her.”
Sophomore Lana Dang continued her fantastic season. She was 16th in the 100-yard butterfly finishing at 1:21.88, 23rd in the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:30.99 and was part of the 200-free 'B' relay team along with Danielle Lawrence, LeBlanc and Tewksbury's Amanda Lightburn, as they came in at 2:13.04.
“Her butterfly was a personal best a second better than her seed time, so that was a really good swim for her. The breaststroke was close to her personal best. Her stronger strokes are in the butterfly and breaststroke so in the freestyle, everyone does it and some people are stronger at speciality strokes and I think she's one of those kids, but she had a good leg as part of the relay team,” said Smith.
Smith added that this year's team is losing 15 seniors, so he's planning on Dang, and others to be in a much bigger role next year.
“She's going to be someone that we're going to lean on to swim for us a lot last year. We're graduating 15 seniors this year so we're going to need kids who will be able to fill in and swim in a lot of different places. She's one of those kids who can do that, whether it's the butterfly, the breaststroke and she can step up and swim the (intermediate medley) or the backstroke or any of the freestyles, she can clearly do that. I look forward to her obviously improving and getting better, so we're fortunate in a sense that she's going to be able to fill in a lot of different places for us in the line-up next year.”
In addition to the 200-free relay, Lightburn was 20th in the breaststroke at 1:28.65 and 43rd in the 100-freestyle at 1:15.86.
“Amanda is in a similar boat with another freshman we have from Methuen, Danielle Lawrence. Both of them have a similar background in competitive swimming and I think this was a good learning year for both of them,” said Smith. “We're definitely going to need Amanda and Danielle next year. I was able to move them around the line-up a little bit this season to see what they were capable of doing, but I definitely know that they are going to be counted on to swim more next year than they did this year. We're looking forward to seeing that growth and see what they will be able to do for us over the next three years.”
Smith added that Lightburn has come along way this season, especially in the breaststroke, but he sees so much potential.
“Her breaststroke time was pretty close to her best. She needs to trust herself more and trust her stroke more. And what I mean by that is kids think faster – obviously faster is good – but when they speed up, some of their motion makes them counter productive and in breaststroke that can be something is harmful to the stroke and their time. She's learning that and figuring out that she needs to know what she's capable of, trust her stroke and slow some things down. You have to glide a little bit in the breaststroke and that's something that she is figuring out this year. She's going to get there. I wish I could get her to talk a little bit more – she doesn't say much but that's OK, there's enough talking from the other kids.”
The last of the Tewksbury residents is Rania Elouahi, who was an alternate all season, meaning she only practiced a handful of times. She was able to participate and she seemed to knock one out of the park with her 100-freestyle race, going from a seed time of 1:21 to her 39th place time of 1:14. She was also 46th in the 50-free at 33:10.
“Rania had a real good day. She embraced that alternate spot and she really wanted to be a part of the team. She was gung-ho on being a part of the team, to practice when we could find time for her and to improve,” said Smith. “She swam the 50 and 100-freestyle and she dropped her time in the 50 so any improvement is good improvement. Then in the 100-freestyle, she went from a 1:21 (time) to a 1:14 and I thought she looked really good in that event. She really attacked it.
“I told her before the meet that she would be swimming against kids with liked times. I think that really settled her mind down a little bit, reassured her and I think she was more confident going into that race. I'm pretty sure she won her heat so that does a lot mentality for a kid to see yourself finish first, knowing that the other nine swimmers all finished behind you. We look forward to seeing her contribute and grow over the next few years.”
As far as the rest of the team goes, all from Methuen, starting with the individual events, Callie DeLano was 8th in the 200-freestyle at 2:13.87 and was followed by Nims who was 13th at 2:18.99 and Connolly, who was 18th at 2:22.05. In the 200-IM, Katie LeFebvre was 11th at 2:36.68 and was followed by Gaigals, who was 16th at 2:39.83 and Charest, who was 24th at 3:17.52.
In the 50-freestyle, Galuska was 8th at 27.24, followed by Rebecca MacLeod (14th at 27.98) and Bryn Hewitt (28th at 30.23).
In the 100-butterfly, Jenny Nguyen was 13th at 1:14.27 and LeBlanc was 18th at 1:26.39. In the 100-freestyle after Nims, it was MacLeod 20th at 1:06.05 and Lawrence 36th at 1:12.61. Then in the 500-freestyle, Callie DeLano was 9th at 5:58.01, followed by LeFebvre, who was 12th at 6:03.51, Lily Forsyth, who was 18th at 6:32.28, Charest was 26th at 7:16.95 and LeBlanc was 27th at 7:26.44.
In the 100-backstroke, Galuska was 5th at 1:07.16, followed by Gaigals (13th at 1:12.32), Forsyth (16th at 1:15.03) and Hewitt (19th at 1:17.28). In the 100-yard breaststroke, Nguyen was 14th at 1:25.74 and Lawrence was 31st at 1:37.26.
Finally, in the diving, Anna Bolduc was seventh with 185.95 points, with Leilany Flores 15th at 156.20 and Sadie Mazzeo-Ghiranda 18th at 144.30.
In the relays, the 200-medley team of Galuska, DeLano, MacLeod and LeFebvre finished 8th at 2:06.05 and the 200-free 'A' team of Nims, Charest, Nguyen and Connolly were 11th at 2:00.93.
This Sunday, the MIAA Division 1 North Sectional Meet will be held and Callie DeLano and Julia Galuska made it as individuals, as did Mazzeo-Ghiranda in diving, and then a combination of five girls between three different relay teams. The meet will be held back at WPI starting at 9 am and again no spectators are allowed.
There were four boys teams that competed and the Red Rangers were first, followed by Billerica, Dracut and Academy of Notre Dame.
Certainly the highlight of the boys meet came in the 100-yard breaststroke with Methuen's Carter DeLano taking first at 1:06.52 and his teammate Matthew Jo of Tewksbury, taking second at 1:06.62, finishing one-tenth behind.
“That was awesome. It was back-and-forth and it was tight. Matthew would get a little ahead on the straightaways and then Carter would pull even or ahead on his turns which tells you the strength of where both kids are – but at the end, Carter's last turn got him just slightly ahead and he turned it on,” said Smith. “It was a super competitive race and an awesome, awesome finish. Both kids ended up qualifying for the state meet because of it. I was so happy to see it and that's what it's all about – good swimming and that was a great race. That was probably one of the best races male or female that we saw yesterday.”
Jo was also second in the 200-freestyle at 2:06.14 and was part of the winning 200-freestyle relay along with Caleb Canavan, Brady Lyons and Philip Nguyen, who came in at 1:46.07.
DeLano was also part of the first place 200-medley relay along with Nguyen, Johnathan Phan and Cory Boisselle, who came in at 1:53.18 and then was second in the 500-freestyle at 5:21.17.
Boisselle was also first in the 50-free at 24.83 and second in the 100-free at 56.04 and Phan and Nguyen finished second and third in the butterfly at 1:03.38 and 1:07.27 and then Nguyen added a second in the breaststroke at 1:09.30. Phan also won the 200-IM at 2:20.09.
Brady Lyons picked up a pair of thirds in the 100-freestyle at 1:03.01 and the 50-free at 26.03. Also in that same event, Canavan was fourth at 26.75 seconds, followed by Lexander Flores, who was sixth at 28.69, Ian Polanco, who was ninth at 31.19 and Jan Polanco, who was 11th at 36.38.
In diving, it went Canavan first at 248.20 points, followed by Flores second with 242.00, Jan Polanco third at 149.90 and Ian Polanco fourth at 145.35.
The first three divers, as well as Phan, Lyons, Boisselle, Nguyen, DeLano and Jo will all be competing in the sectionals.