To end last season, the Cheshire High School girls’ swim and dive team carried motivation on their way out of Yale University’s Robert J.H. Kiphuth Exhibition Pool. While the Rams had earned many top finishes in the State Open, they placed second to Greenwich by just 15 points.
One year later at the same facility, CHS avenged that loss and climbed back atop the state in the process. In a reversal of fortunes on Sunday, it was the Rams who held off Greenwich in a tight finish (428-420) in New Haven. As a reward, Cheshire left the pool deck with their first State Open title since winning consecutive crowns in 2003-04.
“We set out to win three championships (Southern Connecticut Conference, Class LL, State Open) from the beginning of the season,” added Head Coach Dave Modzelewski. “I didn’t know if it would happen, but these girls made it into a reality. They worked really hard all year.”
“It meant so much for us all to have one big goal,” said junior Nora Bergstrom, of ending the year as champions. “That goal pushed us through every set of practice.”
Just five days before the State Open final, CHS beat the Cardinals to win their first Class LL crown in a decade, but defeating their rival again was far from easy. Entering the State Open as the four-time reigning champion, Greenwich cut the Cheshire lead to only 14 points (374-360) going into the final race.
“I was getting nervous,” said Modzelewski. “Unlike the class meet where you are locked into heats, people can move up here and Greenwich had some strong finishes at the end.”
With cheers from different fan sections reverberating around the pool, Greenwich ended the meet with a victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:32.14), but since the CHS team of freshman Avery Potyrala, Bergstrom, senior Julia Stevens, and junior Sophie Murphy placed second (3:32.51), the Rams still had enough points to clinch the title.
“It was stressful, but we all knew what we had to do. Before the race, we all said that we can’t get a DSQ (disqualification),” said Murphy, who rallied on the anchor leg to make for a close finish at the wall. “Everybody has done a great job swimming on the relay all year. I just have to finish it off.”
Individually, Murphy and Stevens both captured a pair of crowns. Murphy defended her titles in the 50- (23.68) and 100-yard (51.08) freestyles, with the latter time sitting second all-time in CHS history.
“There is always pressure when you are trying to defend a title,” said Murphy, who credited swimmers like Esme Hunter (Staples), Maddie Bergin (North Haven), and Hannah Seward (Ridgefield) for pushing her in the final. “Everyone in my heats was good. It is exciting to win against that kind of competition.”
Stevens claimed her first individual crowns in the 200- (1:51.97) and 500-yard (4:59.55) freestyles. Bergstrom moved up to place fourth (1:53.99) and third (5:02.55) in those respective events.
“Nora and I have been training together all season,” stated Stevens. “It is great to see all the hard work pay off.”
“I didn’t make ‘A’ finals last year, so to do two best times and place that high feels amazing,” explained Bergstrom, who finished just behind Ridgefield junior Rylie Giles (5:02.34) in the 500-yard freestyle. “I was hoping for second in that race, but Riley is a great swimmer.”
Senior Sarah Chen teamed with Potyrala, Bergstrom, and Murphy to earn a bronze medal in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:38.00). In the 200-yard medley, senior Jillian Stevens, junior Emma Glover, Julia Stevens, and Chen finished fifth in 1:48.84.
Individually, Jillian Stevens secured fourth in the 100-yard backstroke (57.21). The time ranks second in CHS history.
“That is the highest I’ve finished in the (State) Open. It was great to go out with a best time,” stated Stevens, a co-captain with Chen.
Freshman Julianna Tyler (2:11.85), junior Bella Tejeda (2:12.09), and Jillian Stevens (2:12.47) finished 12th to 14th in the 200-yard individual medley. Tyler also took 12th in the 100-yard butterfly (58.96).
Glover posted 19th in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:08.89) and 24th in the 200-yard IM (2:16.44), while Barto supplied 23rd in the breaststroke (1:09.40) and 24th in the 100-yard butterfly (1:00.63). Potyrala earned 21st in the 200-yard freestyle (1:58.62).
“We all stepped up this season,” said Julia Stevens. “We don’t win this meet without everybody doing their part.”
Tyler and Potyrala made the State Open as freshman.
“It has been a lot of fun. Everyone is so nice on this team,” said Potyrala.
Before the swimmers wrapped up the season, junior Natalie DeMatteo made her State Open diving debut last Thursday, placing 18th (395.70) at Middletown High School.
“I was so proud of her for making the State Open, especially since she just came back from a concussion at the SCC meet,” said Diving Coach Patty Conte. “She got back on the board and did really well.”
For next year, DeMatteo has been voted as a tri-captain with Murphy and Barto.
“I think she (DeMatteo) is going to have a phenomenal season,” stated Conte. “She has a great chance to win the SCC and medal at Class LL or Class L. I also think she has a chance to medal at the (State) Open.”
While Cheshire had no senior divers this year, the Rams will graduate the Stevens sisters, Chen, Emma Cody, Mihiri and Minoli Fernando, Lavana Gulati, Eliana Likorama, Tori Newton, manager Sam Pettola, and Abby Robinson from the swim team. The seniors went unbeaten in dual meets for the fourth straight year (45-0 record), along with winning an eighth straight SCC crown, the Class LL Championship, and the State Open title.
“This team is so special,” said Julia Stevens. “The atmosphere in college is different than at the high school level.”
The Stevens sisters have already made college swim plans. Jillian will compete at Bryant University (Rhode Island) and Julia will race at Lehigh University (Pennsylvania).
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that it (high school swimming) is over,” said Jillian Stevens. “I’ll still get to see all the girls in the hallway for the rest of the year.”