Ever since she was young, Cheshire High School rising senior swimmer Sophie Murphy has loved to compete in the pool. Whether racing her older sisters, Emily and Ellie, growing up or winning championships on the state and national levels, Murphy has found that many of her best performances have come when she was pushed to swim from behind or hold onto a tight lead.
“The extra pressure hypes me up. It pushes me forward instead of holding me back,” explained Murphy, a record-setting sprinter for the CHS Rams and Cheshire Y/Sea Dog Swim Club. “I definitely have the competitive edge that I want to beat people. Some swimmers say that they can’t see their opponents, but for me, they make me go faster.”
That will to win has led her to setting up a new challenge on the college level. Before writing the final chapter of her CHS career this fall, Murphy recently committed to swimming at Georgia Tech University.
“When I was younger, I always knew that I wanted to be a college athlete. I’m really excited to be in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference),” said Murphy, who also considered Bucknell University, Villanova University, and Indiana University among her top choices. “My parents and sisters supported me the whole time. I saw all my options and thought that I was ready to commit this summer.”
Like countless students around the country, her college process was impacted heavily by the coronavirus. Murphy visited Florida State University and went to Pennsylvania to see Bucknell, but after COVID-19 led to colleges being shut down, she had to continue her search virtually.
“It definitely altered some of my plans. I was about to visit a few schools after my swim season in April and I planned to see some more this summer,” recalled Murphy.
Through expanding her list at the start of the pandemic, she contacted the Georgia Tech coaching staff led by Courtney Shealy Hart. While Murphy wasn’t able to have a recruiting trip, the coaches and swimmers still persuaded her to choose the school.
“I love the coaches and the team. It (GTU) has a beautiful campus,” said Murphy. “A lot of coaches went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Swimmers sent me videos of the school and talked to me about the program.”
While not being given a tour, Murphy did have the opportunity to go to Georgia Tech last December for the Toyota U.S. Open at the McAuley Aquatic Center. She competed with Sea Dog teammate Vivian Mudry.
“I fell in love with it (the pool) the first time I dove in the water,” Murphy recalled. “Since Viv and I weren’t swimming in finals, we could tour the city and go out to dinner.”
Murphy credits her coaches in her earning a Division I scholarship. Ed Heath (Meriden Silver Fins Swim Team) and Sean Farrell (Sea Dogs) have worked with her on the club level. After swimming under Dan Mascolo as a freshman at CHS, she has competed for Dave Modzelewski for two seasons.
“I’ve been fortunate to have never had a bad coach in my life,” reflected Murphy. “I owe them all so much.”
Raised in a swim family, Murphy followed her sisters as a member of the Copper Valley Club, Silver Fins, Sea Dogs, and CHS Rams.
“Emily and Ellie both did sprinting before me,” reflected Murphy. “We used to race and I always wanted to beat them.”
Heath coached Murphy for nine years in Silver Fins.
“He taught me my strokes and helped create my love for the sport,” stated Murphy, who also played lacrosse and soccer growing up. “I love swimming more than any other sport. I like to be in the water and compete, regardless of if it is practice or Y-Nationals.”
In coming to CHS, she has excelled in helping the Rams post a 34-0 record in dual meets, win three Southern Connecticut Conference crowns, capture three Class titles, and claim a State Open crown (2019). Murphy has swept the 50- and 100-yard freestyles in all of her Class meets and won both State Open events in the last two seasons.
She has garnered five relay crowns on the state level and added five SCC gold medals. At CHS, Murphy holds school records in the 50-yard freestyle (23.51) and the 200-yard medley relay (1:43.99), ranking second all-time in the 100-yard freestyle (51.08).
In her first two seasons, Murphy earned All-American for two relays, as well as being recognized for the 50-yard freestyle as a sophomore.
“To able to have that title is amazing,” said Murphy. “I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and teammates.”
As an underclassman, Murphy enjoyed having her sister Ellie on the team.
“It was really nice,” recalled Murphy. “Ellie is the sweetest person.”
In 2017, the Murphy sisters helped Cheshire win the Class L crown and end an eight-year drought for CHS as state champions. In her debut, Sophie made history in teaming with Ali Tyler, Julia Stevens, and Liz Boyer to set the state record in the 200-yard medley relay.
“That was insane. I had no idea what the record was,” recalled Murphy. “I was proud of everyone.”
Murphy also broke a 26-year Cheshire record in the 50-yard freestyle (23.76), along with winning the 100-yard freestyle (51.61) and 200-yard freestyle relay (1:38.13).
“It was so exciting,” stated Murphy. “We were all on fire for the whole meet.”
Cheshire defended their Class L title in 2018, but then the team was moved up to LL last year. Facing a deeper field, the Rams rose to the challenge to unseat Greenwich as the Class and State Open champion. CHS hadn’t beaten the Cardinals since 2009 or won the State Open in 15 years.
“It was a great feeling. Greenwich has such a strong team with swimmers like Megan Lynch, who I’ve known for years,” said Murphy. “We were the underdogs coming up from (Class) L last year. We kept it lighthearted on the pool deck, but everybody was ready to race.”
For the second straight year, Murphy won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles in Class LL and the State Open. She also helped claim a LL crown in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“It was an honor to be able to do whatever I could for the team,” explained Murphy, who lowered her own school record in the State Open 50-yard freestyle. “Being able to be the only unbeaten team left in the state was a great feeling.”
While earning many individual honors, Murphy says that relays are her favorite events. She loves the chance to anchor teams and face top competition.
“It is a better feeling when I get a best time with the relays. It feels great to be part of the team,” explained Murphy.
To swim on more relays and expand her event repertoire, Murphy decided to join her sister Ellie in changing clubs, from Silver Fins to Cheshire Sea Dogs, in 2018.
“It was good swimming the 50 and 100 freestyles growing up, but I wanted to contribute more to my team,” explained Murphy. “On Silver Fins, we didn’t have a lot of people and I mostly competed individually. It was great to come to Sea Dogs and swim relays.”
Murphy made an immediate impact for the Sea Dogs, who won their first three national championships in 2017-18. In her first two national meets, she clinched 2018 short course and long course titles by coming from behind to win the 400-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relays. Murphy teamed with Boyer, Tyler, and Mia Leko on those teams.
“It meant so much to me,” recalled Murphy. “Before the final event (at my first national meet) (Coach) Sean (Farrell) pulled us aside. He said don’t worry about the score and then showed us the numbers. When I saw our team line up on the side of the pool to cheer us on, all of fear went away for me.”
In the last two years, Murphy has contributed to six relay national crowns and finished as the 100-meter freestyle runner-up (57.84) in the 2019 long course meet. She has won all of her titles with Tyler, who has committed to swim at George Mason University in Virginia.
“I love Ali. She is a great swimmer and person,” said Murphy. “Ali can swim anything.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Sea Dogs were unable to compete nationally this year.
“Once Y-Nationals was canceled, we knew it was for the best,” said Murphy. “We were able to get a break from swimming for the first time in a while. It showed me how much swimming means to me.”
In the CHS and Sea Dog programs, Murphy feels that a great deal of her success has come from having friendly competition with teammates.
“I’ve seen Olympians and professional athletes who train by themselves, but I benefit from being pushed by other people,” explained Murphy.
Despite graduating 11 seniors from the CHS team, Murphy hopes that her classmates can finish their CHS careers on high note this fall. Like Murphy, senior Bella Tejeda has committed for college and will swim at Fairfield University.
“Getting a four-peat (as state champions) would be amazing for the seniors. All of us love the sport and want to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Murphy, who hopes to break former standout Emily Struck’s 100-yard freestyle record (51.03) from 1991.
Following in the footsteps of her older sisters, Murphy has been elected as a senior tri-captain with classmates Mary Barto and Natalie DeMatteo. Emily Murphy led the 2016 Rams and Ellie Murphy captained the 2018 team.
“It is really nice to continue on the legacy. I saw how great they led the team,” reflected Murphy. “We have a lot of great leaders on this year’s team, too.”
CHS is reworking their swim and dive schedule for the fall.