With focus on safety, FCIAC swimmers, divers stay resilient in season of uncertainty

A pair of veteran girls swimming and diving coaches from the FCIAC acknowledged the uniqueness of this season certainly required several hurdles to clear.

But given the situation, they are proud of how their athletes and the conference has dealt with it to enable the athletes to have a season and get some good competition in the pool this fall.

Many things had to be curtailed or eliminated from the normal meet formats of previous years to work around the COVID-19 pandemic. But a fine balance was struck to enable youngsters to compete, and with a premium placed on safety for everyone being implemented.

“Given the circumstances, we’re fortunate we’ve been able to get some sort of season in,” said Marj Trifone, coach of defending state Class L team champion Darien. “Especially for the year-round swimmers, who got cut off by the end of February. So this was a fortunate situation that we got to have in-person meets. Nothing can replace a high school in-person meet in terms of energy. Nothing can replace two kids on a deck, one kid from Darien and one from New Canaan.”

Rick Lewis, the head coach of the Westhill/Stamford cooperative program, is the FCIAC’s chairperson for both girls swimming and diving during the fall and boys swimming and diving in the winter.

So he played a vital role in working with the conference and health officials to help set up a season, and he was equally pleased that his girls got to get some sort of season in and plans are currently established for some sort of postseason.

“Our kids have been very resilient and have adapted as best as we could have expected,” Lewis said. “From our standpoint it hasn’t been overly abnormal. We’ve been doing in-person meets and practices have been same as normal, other than wearing masks when you’re out of the pool.

“It’s been nice to have the meets – to go in and race against someone together. Racing’s the big part, the good part,” Lewis continued. “The regular season has been pretty normal but the championship season is going to be weird. But it’s about the best we could’ve expected.”

The main downfalls are that there will be no FCIAC and state championship meets this year and that spectators were not able to attend any dual meets.

But the bottom line is swimmers got to race in meets and in most meets they raced against opposing teams at the same venue.

The teams and meets were set up by regions in which the schools swam against other schools which were geographically closest to them.

Westhill/Stamford, Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan are the four teams in the West Region and that is a region in which the schools have had in-person meets against each other for all their meets.

Most of the meets were in-person meets in the Central Region, which included the Norwalk/McMahon cooperative program, Staples, Wilton, Ridgefield and Danbury.

Fairfield Ludlowe, Fairfield Warde, St. Joseph and Trumbull formed the East Region and those schools had many virtual meets in which the teams would swim in pools, but not with opposing teams at the same venue. The race times were exchanged with each other to complete the results where each swimmer would have placed in each event.

The best that could be done for a postseason meet is to form a hybrid of a regional in-person meet and virtual meet, with times being exchanged. Those meets will take place in the second week of November, with sites and dates of the Central and East regional meets still to be finalized.

As for the West Region championship meet, two separate meets will take place at the Greenwich High School pool, the usual site of the FCIAC championship meets. Westhill/Stamford will swim against New Canaan on Nov. 10 and Greenwich swims against Darien on Nov. 11. Then all the times and results will be tabulated for team scoring.

“We thought it was important not to have different pools, to swim at the same facility with the same timeline,” Lewis said. “There’s not really an FCIAC championship meet, but it’s a COVID-19 year so we’re doing something extraordinary.”

Lewis and Trifone did admit that it is a saddening that the swimmers, notably the seniors, will miss out on the usual excitement of conference and state championship meets.

“That’s real tough,” Lewis said. “The FCIAC meet is always one of the best meets. Not having that and not having state championship meets – that’s tough. And it’s been just as difficult for the parents of seniors because we’ve had no spectator events and they’ve been unable to see their daughters in their last high school meets.”

“That has definitely been tough, I agree,” Trifone said. “That has been very hard, definitely, for both the parents and the kids. I have children of my own. If I was unable to see my son playing in his last football games, his last game as a senior as the culmination of all they have done in high school, I know how I would feel.

“Unfortunately, with these meets, what has been missing is the energy on the deck,” Trifone said. “You can’t make that up. To me that’s the sad part. And not just the senior parents, but even the freshman parents, they don’t get to see what an FCIAC championship meet is like.”

Trifone was quick to add, however, that the parents and swimmers such as her senior captain, Hope Murray, have done a fantastic job with leadership and providing a great support system and establishing the best atmosphere possible.

“I will say this, I am very hopeful and very confident that if we get our last championship meet in, although it will not exactly be like a championship meet, these kids will hit their best times,” said Trifone, who has guided her Blue Wave swimmers to seven state Class LL championships since 2011 and three straight State Open titles from 2012-14.

“If they can go there and walk onto the blocks and say: I’ve got this; they’re going to hit personal-best times. Given the opportunity they’ll have, they can do that, it will be wonderful for their self-esteem and they’re confident that they can do it, and the proof will be in the pudding.”

With this most recent uptick in COVID-19 positive test results statewide and nationwide as late October transitioned into early November, Trifone, Lewis and the rest of the coaches and swimmers in the conference will continue to keep their collective fingers crossed that they can actually have their respective regional championship meets.

“The toughest part of the season has been the uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week,” Lewis said. “With this rise in COVID-19, we still don’t know. We’re just hoping we can get to the 10th and the 11th (of November) and that we can have these meets. But who knows?”

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