By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Region – Competitive high school swimming underwent a major transformation beginning this season that has been met with near across-the-board endorsement by area swim coaches, including Shrewsbury High School varsity head coach Alexandra Wilson.
Teams remain co-ed but no longer will boys compete against girls in events. Under the new rules, boys will compete against boys and girls versus girls, a radical shift from the past. So, has the change been for the better? Wilson thinks it has.
“I love it and I actually fought for it because we have a lot of really talented female swimmers,” said Wilson, who is assisted by Katherine Lizotte. “And what I noticed last year was that they would be put up against men’s relays. They wouldn’t get the places they deserve and wouldn’t get recognized for their talents because the boys were just faster and they couldn’t compete with that.
“So, I really wanted to separate them so they had more competition and they could be recognized for the places they deserve because they’re competing against people of their own gender. I really like it.”
And so the transformation was put into place to kick off the 2015-2016 season, and if the Jan. 15 meet between Wachusett Regional and Shrewsbury High at Worcester’s Jewish Community Center is any indication, the move has more than met its objective of balanced competition. The teams split by just a combined 13 points. The Colonial boys were victorious. 78-72, while the girls fell just short, 81-88.
In the meet versus Wachusett, the 200-medley relay team of captains Sarah Arsenault and Erin Kean, Allie Pisano-Stratton and Kaitlyn Madden took first place with a state-qualifying time. The same relay team also qualified for states in the 200-freestyle relay during the meet.
Arsenault came in first in the 200-meter individual medley (IM) and 100-meter backstroke, Kean won the 100-meter butterfly with a sectional-qualifying time and the 100-meter breaststroke with a state-qualifying time. Senior captain Michael Stroz came in first in the 50-meter freestyle and the 500-meter freestyle. Junior Mike Lee took first and broke the school record for the 200-meter freestyle by 3.5 seconds and qualified for sectionals. Lee, Cam Greiner, Stroz and Jack Frederick won the 200-freestyle relay.
“We’re always there for each other cheering, especially the hard events like the 500, 200 and relays. Even in practice we have real good camaraderie,” said Kean of her squad’s visible team spirit. “We have morning practices, too, so before school we get some dry-lands in. It’s also much better when you know everyone’s working with you and doing the same thing as you are.”
“Our coach has put a big emphasis on cheering and supporting one another especially because we have a lot of new swimmers,” noted senior Lea Murphy. “So a lot cheering can sometimes push swimmers to go just a little bit faster in their event and that’s what we want to do. When you know that someone’s cheering for you and other people are depending on you; that makes you want to do better for yourself and the team.”
“Every time I go in for a flip-turn, I see my teammates cheering me on and it gives that little bit of motivation and you just have to remember you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” added Greiner.
In addition to her swimmers talent, Wilson likes most her squad’s commitment to the sport and dedication that has been on display since early on. The 2015-2016 team has not disappointed.
“This is the most cohesive Shrewsbury High School swimming team that I’ve seen,” she said. “Everybody’s just works well with each other. Even if they’re not best friends, they’re definitely strong teammates. They cheer for each other whether they’re coming in first or last and just finishing a tough race. It really feels like a family which is what a team should be in my eyes.
“I’m really impressed by their dedication. This year we started doing half an hour of dry-land twice a week from 6:30-7 a.m. at the school and that’s really hard to get up for as high school kids, but they’re all there. They all have a smile on their face. They’re really, really dedicated. I’m proud of that probably the most this year.”
“This sport is both team and individual because you know when you’re swimming your event, you know that you have people cheering you on,” added Lee. “But it’s also believing in yourself knowing you can beat the kid right next to you.”
Members of the 2015-2016 Shrewsbury High varsity girls’ swim team are seniors Sarah Arsenault, Erin Kean and Lea Murphy along with juniors Lauren Baldino, the team’s diver, and Cecelia Bolon. Sophomore swimmers are Emily Hickey, Ananya Jain, Caitlin Kean, Katilyn Madden, Allie Pisano-Stratton who are joined by freshmen Sara Abdelouahed, Tanvi Tanna, Saisha Chojar, Meghan Connolly, Clarissa DaSilva and Kristina Madden.
Members of the 2015-2016 Shrewsbury High boys’ varsity swim team are senior Michael Stroz, juniors Jack Frederick, Ben Knight, Mike Lee, Erik Schaeffer, Tom King and Cameron Greiner. Sophomores are Jake Godwin and Abhinav Kareddy who are joined by freshmen Anshuman Madhuka, Ajan Prabakar, Rohin Khanna and Kevyn Luu.
Team managers are Stephen Stroz, Morgan Kubli and Val Dombele.