For the Cheshire High School girls’ swim and dive team, the Southern Connecticut Conference finals had a new look on Nov. 7. Instead of facing rivals at Southern Connecticut State University, CHS competed against each other in a virtual meet at the Cheshire Community Pool.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SCC allowed teams to hold virtual meets from Oct. 26 to Nov. 10, and then the scores and times would be put together.
“Obviously, it was a lot different,” said senior Nora Bergstrom. “I think we did a good job of keeping up the energy. The parents commented on the cheering and atmosphere we had, but it was tough not knowing how the other teams were doing when we were swimming.”
Despite having to wait longer than in previous years, the final result was the same when standings were announced on Nov. 11. Cheshire earned 1,283 points to defeat Lauralton Hall (882) and win their ninth straight SCC title and 26th overall in 27 years. CHS also won the Division I regular-season championship (1,336).
“Coming into freshman year, I knew how successful the program was, but it has been amazing to be part of something so special,” said Mary Barto, a senior tri-captain with Sophie Murphy and Natalie DeMatteo.
To prepare for the SCC meet, Head Coach Dave Modzelewski felt the team benefited from having a live meet against Amity on Oct. 26 in Orange.
“There was an adrenaline rush of getting to compete against people from another team even though we were separated by the blocks,” explained Modzelewski.
To cap her career, Murphy won four SCC races, including the 50- (23.68) and 100-yard (51.44) freestyles. She teamed with freshman Julia Barto, sophomore Avery Potyrala, and senior Emma Glover to win the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:39.61).
In joining with Bergstrom, sophomore Julianna Tyler, and Potyrala on the winning 400-yard freestyle relay team (3:34.26), Murphy earned an opening split of 50.86 to break Cheshire’s 100-yard freestyle record (51.03) of Emily Struck from 1991.
“I wanted to get it, but didn’t know if it was in my ability,” said Murphy, who also holds the 50-yard mark (23.51) at CHS. “I took a step back in my training like everyone else because of COVID.”
After not getting the 100-yard freestyle record in her individual SCC race, Murphy decided to go out faster in the 400-yard relay and not try to conserve energy.
“Sometimes, my legs feel like they are going to fall off, but I always swim faster on relays,” stated Murphy.
Modzelewski tracked her record progress in the relay.
“Based on her first split, I knew that she had a shot,” said Modzelewski. “As soon she touched the wall, she looked at me and then the clock.”
“Once we saw the time, we were all excited,” stated Murphy. “I think it motivated everyone on the relay team to go faster.”
CHS won nine events, but they also used depth to score points. In the 200-yard individual medley, Julia Barto (2:08.09), Tyler (2:10.64), Glover (2:10.69), and senior Bella Tejeda (2:11.18) took the top-four places.
“It felt great,” said Tejeda. “Taking those spots is not something we expected.”
Barto moved up to seventh all-time in the IM at CHS.
“I wasn’t expecting to go that fast because it was virtual,” reflected Barto. “My teammates did so well, too.”
Glover (1:06.82) and Julia Barto (1:07.51) led the way in the 100-yard breaststroke. Mary Barto (1:08.19) and junior Gabrielle Sokolik (1:11.20) came in fourth and fifth, respectively.
“It felt very good having the whole team there to support me,” explained Glover. “We had great energy for the whole night.”
After placing second twice in her career, Glover won her first SCC breaststroke crown. Her time ranks ninth in CHS history.
“I’ve been working so hard to get that first place,” said Glover.
“She works hard everyday,” stated Modzelewski. “She was the first one in the pool and last one out. When she figured out that she was going to the University of Maine, it took pressure off her and she just swam. She wasn’t afraid of going out too fast in a race.”
To start the SCC meet, the Barto sisters teamed with Bergstrom and Glover to win the 200-yard medley relay (1:50.00).
“To be on a relay with my sister and two of my best friends was great,” said Mary Barto, who competed in her first championship relay. “I didn’t want to let my team down.”
In the 100-yard butterfly, Tyler (58.34) and Mary Barto (58.69) were top finishers. Tejeda (sixth, 59.82) and sophomore Vanessa Squillante (seventh, 1:00.86) also made the top 10.
Tyler earned her first crown.
“It was great, especially getting to work with Mary, Bella, and Vanessa,” said Tyler. “We pushed each other.”
Bergstrom placed runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle (1:54.84) and took third in the 500-yard freestyle (5:06.63).
“It is hard to tell how I would have in a regular (SCC) meet,” said Bergstrom. “I think it would have been a better race with everyone together, but I did my best for the team.”
Also in freestyle, Potyrala secured fourth in the 100-yard race (54.02) and fifth in the 200-yard event (1:56.90). Senior Ava Breton earned fourth in the 100-yard backstroke (1:01.81) and ninth in the 200-yard freestyle (2:01.05).
Sokolik nabbed ninth in the 100-yard freestyle (56.48). Freshman Morgan McDonough finished eighth in the 500-yard freestyle (5:30.63) and 10th in the 200-yard freestyle (2:02.07).
Squillante contributed 10th place in the 50-yard freestyle (25.83). Freshman Grace Hanke made the top 15 in the 500-yard freestyle (13th, 5:38.02) and the backstroke (11th, 1:04.50).
Juniors Kaitlyn Grove (16th, 26.36) and Hannah Merritt (24th, 27.01) sprinted in the 50-yard freestyle, while senior Lucy Helene (21st, 1:08.51) and sophomore Kaitlyn Hartman (51st, 1:29.12) placed in backstroke. Freshman Sella Cahill (500-yard freestyle, 16th, 5:48.86) and sophomore Emily Rivera (100-yard freestyle, 18th, 59.52) cracked the top 25.
Seniors Kyleigh Connolly and Kelly Margolies, juniors Grace Cox, Zoe Goodrich, Ashley Jeon, Mantra Narayanan, sophomores Leah Anderson, Emma Grove, Somya Gulati, Allyson Leighton, Starr Snider-Drysdale, and freshmen Julia Bevilacqua, Cailynn Connolly, and Kelsey Stern swam exhibition in the title meet.
Along with swimming on Nov. 7, DeMatteo won her first SCC diving crown (392.75) at Albertus Magnus College. She held off Jonathan Law junior MaKenna Sharpe by 32.35 points.
“It is really good,” said DeMatteo. “I thought it was redemption, because I couldn’t compete last year due to a concussion.”
DeMatteo earned a perfect 8-0 record in the regular season, but she still felt a little nervous going into the finals.
“I was still seeded second (behind Sharpe), so that ended up motivating me to go and win the title,” reflected DeMatteo.
Diving Coach Patty Conte has been inspired by how DeMatteo has overcome her concussion and injuries to her ankles.
“It was awesome to see her win the title,” said Conte. “I’m so thrilled for her. Natalie works so hard.”
Sophomore Hannah Tao placed sixth (326.50) in the SCC.
“Hannah had a really solid meet,” stated Conte. “She is only a sophomore and hasn’t been diving for a long time.”
In competing during the pandemic, Modzelewski commends the Rams, as well as Assistant Shea Moriarty and Conte, on persevering through unknown elements during the season.
“We had to adjust to things every week. It was stressful and I think there were times when the girls were tired of it,” reflected Modzelewski. “It was good to plan our championship at the end. It became something that the girls could shoot for.”
With season’s end, Cheshire will graduate one of the most decorated classes in school history. Mary Barto, DeMatteo, Murphy, Bergstrom, Breton, Connolly, Glover, Helene, Margolies, diver Tori McCarthy, manager Meghan McDonough, and Tejeda went 42-0 in dual meets, claiming four SCC titles, three class crowns, and the 2019 State Open.
“It is tough to say goodbye,” said Glover. “This team has become a second family to me.”
“This senior class led the way in my three years with the program,” added Modzelewski, who succeeded Dan Mascolo as head coach in 2018. “They will continue to be part of the Ram family.”
Murphy (Georgia Tech University), Bergstrom (Colgate University-New York), Breton (University of Mount Union-Ohio), Glover (University of Maine), Tejeda (Fairfield University), and Barto (American University-Washington D.C.) have committed to swimming in college. On Nov. 10, the girls participated in a signing ceremony with CHS senior Ali Tyler, who will swim at George Mason University in Virginia.
“All of us have worked so hard,” said Tejeda. “It will be tough not being on the same team, but I’m excited to see how everyone does for their college teams.”