Update: During Thursday’s meet against Barnstable, boys swimmers John Szucs and Keith Gagnon qualified for Sectionals in the 100 backstroke and 100 breaststroke respectively. Szucs also qualified for States in the 100 freestyle. Girls swimmers Laura Kaser, Kaitlin Bohannon, Nina Mako and Brynn Morris qualified for States in the 400 freestyle relay. Bohannon also qualified for States in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley while Morris qualified for States in the 100 freestyle. Kaser and Mako qualified for Sectionals in the 200 freestyle, Morris in the 50 freestyle, and Isabel Colella in the 100 backstroke.
EASTHAM — The bar has been raised for the Nauset boys and girls swim teams.
The Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Tournament Management Committee decided at an emergency meeting on Jan. 27 to change the qualifying cut times for four swim events at this year’s North and South Sectional meets. The events include the 500-yard freestyle and all three relays — the 200 medley, 200 freestyle, and 400 freestyle. Nauset competes in the South Sectional tournament.
The Nauset teams got the news an hour before their Senior Day meet against Bishop Connolly last Thursday at Willy’s Gym in Eastham. “They just changed the cut times an hour before the meet,” Nauset girls coach Jenn Stevens said in an interview that day.
There were two reasons for lowering the qualifying times, according to a statement released by the MIAA’s Sectional and State meet directors. One goal is to allow both meets to fit into a manageable timeline on Saturday and Sunday. The other is to limit the number of participants to allow compliance with Covid-19 protocols.
Normally, the postseason meets are held at colleges or universities, which have 10-lane pools, but Stevens said that, because of Covid-19, those venues have opted out of hosting the Sectionals. (The state tournament is still set to be held Feb. 26 and 27 at Boston University.)
“They want to decrease the number of swimmers participating because of Covid,” said Stevens. What’s hard, she said, is that “there are certain goals kids have been training for all season.”
Only the top 18 qualifiers for the four events will make the cut, according to the new rules. The state’s swim committee first requested the change because the postseason meets will be held at Milford High School on Feb. 12 and 13, and Milford has only a six-lane pool.
Nauset swimmers John Szucs, Keith Gagnon, Will Crowell, and Roman Gorman swam the 200-medley relay in a time of 1:52.45 during the Cape & Islands Swimming and Diving Invitational on Jan. 14. The Sectional qualifying time at that point was 1:52.71, so the boys had just made it. Now, with the new qualifying time of 1:48.84, that performance doesn’t cut it.
Sophomore Nina Mako swam the 500 freestyle at the invitational in 5:46.62 to qualify for Sectionals as well. But with the change Mako falls short of the new qualifying time of 5:43.48. Mako did qualify for States in the 200-individual medley.
Fortunately for Nauset, the girls’ 200-medley relay team of Kaitlin Bohannon, Nina Mako, Isabella Hardwicke, and Brynn Morris, as well as the 200-freestyle relay team of Bohannon, Mako, Morris, and Alexia Colella, posted times on Jan. 14 that were good enough to qualify under the new cut times.
Nauset also performed well in its home meet against Bishop Connolly. The girls team won 110-35 to improve to 3-1 for the season, while the boys won 91-39 to post a 4-0 record. Sophomore Will Crowell swam the ninth-fastest 200 freestyle in school history and qualified for States with a time of 1:55.83.
Junior Ella Woods scored her first Sectional diving cut with a 197.10, needing only one more score over 180 to qualify.
Changing the qualifying times so late in the season is an unprecedented move by the MIAA and one that teams had no way to prepare for.
Last year, restrictions changed the sport in other ways. Teams weren’t allowed to compete against each other in the same pool. Each team would be video recorded in its own pool. Afterwards, the coaches would compare times to see who won.
“Sometimes we didn’t swim on the same day as the other team,” Stevens said. “It would be days before you even found out the result.”
Stevens is in her second year as coach of the girls swim team; Justin Bohannon has been coaching the boys team for years.
“This year is a lot more exciting,” Stevens said. “The kids are getting to see and swim against their competition. If there’s someone next to you, you’re going to push yourself.”
“We lost that competitiveness last year,” said senior Captain John Szucs. “It was super tough.”
Both Szucs and girls senior Captain Brynn Morris said dealing with the Willy’s Gym pool closure, the pandemic, and having a new coach last year was not easy. But they are optimistic now.
“Last year was a tough year to have a new coach,” Morris said, “but Coach Stevens has been great.”
Swimming can be a grueling sport. Stevens said that there are swimmers at Nauset who compete in both high school and club swimming.
Nauset holds practice three mornings before school and two afternoons a week. As with hockey, competitive swimming requires a demanding schedule of play and practice at both the high school and club levels.
“It tests your speed, grit, and determination,” Stevens said. “If kids are swimming both club and high school, they’re going to build their endurance.”
Both the boys and girls teams have a busy end of season and are pushing to get their relay times to qualify. The teams won meets against Barnstable at Willy’s on Tuesday and against St. John Paul II at Sandwich High on Thursday.
The teams are competing in the Cape & Islands Conference Championships on Friday and Saturday in Sandwich.