MILFORD — These meets almost looked normal for once in this disastrous year. Three girls swimming and diving teams got back in the pool at Foran for real on Thursday, the first day of high school competition in the state since March 9. Law’s MaKenna Sharpe broke a two-year-old school diving record in her first meet as a junior.
But there was weirdness to embrace amid the COVID-19 pandemic that made sure there’d be no competition between March 10 and Wednesday. First and foremost for the home school, their opponents weren’t in the next lane; they were 19 miles away.
“It’s weird not having spectators. It’s weird not having another team here,” Foran coach Meghan Condon said.
“Sometimes it loses a little bit of that excitement when it comes down to the last (event), knowing what the score is. Not knowing the score does change things a little bit.”
Many swim meets will be “virtual meets” this fall and winter, like Foran-Guilford on Thursday, with Foran swimming in its own pool and Guilford at the Branford YMCA. Some opponents may not swim at the same time. Some may not swim on the same day.
“It’s just not the same racing someone right next to you,” Guilford senior Julia Earle said. “I think you could kind of see it today. Something just comes over you and you go faster than you ever thought you could. This felt more like a practice, but I don’t know, as long as everyone was there cheering and hyping each other up, we were fine.”
To make it weirder, the other Milford schools, Law and Lauralton Hall, faced each other on Thursday, too. Law swam at 5:15, after Foran cleared the pool around 4:30. Lauralton Hall started a little after 7:15, 45 minutes after Law cleared out. The benches, blocks and diving board were sanitized before each school began competing.
Photo: Pete Paguaga / Hearst Connecticut Media
Image 1 69
The teams were going to compare times and score the meet as if everyone were in the same place. Those times and scores weren’t immediately available Thursday afternoon. It was unknown if they’d even be available Thursday night.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the governing body for high school sports in the state, had some fits and starts on the way from the start of summertime conditioning on July 6 to this day, including a week-long pause in that conditioning in mid-August while the CIAC and the state Department of Public Health worked through DPH recommendations about how to safely resume athletics.
Athletes worked through September from small-group workouts to larger-group practices. Thursday was the first day competition was allowed in every traditional fall sport except football, which won’t play under CIAC sanction until March at earliest after the DPH declined to recommend playing in the fall.
“I think what was hard for our girls is they’re a really close-knit group,” Condon said. “They like to decorate lockers, have a lot of outside team-bonding experience. It was difficult in the beginning, cohorting off.”
The last games in the state were winter tournament games on March 9. The CIAC canceled the rest of those tournaments the next morning, then ended hope of a spring season on May 5.
Virtual meets will keep teams from traveling and mingling with athletes from other towns, helping mitigate potential spread of the novel coronavirus. Even with them, the teams are playing shorter and heavily regional schedules. This was the first of two times Law will face Lauralton, and it’ll meet Foran three times.
The season runs through November with some kind of postseason to be determined, though not the traditional state championship meets. To go on, all of it depends on the state’s COVID-19 metrics remaining low.
“My girls swam all out, lights out,” Guilford coach Jenn Amasino said. “I think they recognize that this is just a blessing, and they are taking advantage of the opportunity that they have, because it could be gone tomorrow. Race today but next week they can say no more.”
From a corner, it looked familiar Thursday: masks on coaches and officials, sure, but swimmers making diligent turns, divers upping their degrees of difficulty, athletes cheering for their teammates.
They were the only ones cheering, though; the stands were empty but for one person filming the meet.
Sharpe, who finished ninth in diving at last year’s State Open meet, wished the stands were full; a crowd pushes her, she said. But she posted a school-record 242.70 anyway.
“I’ve been diving in the offseason with a separate coach,” Sharpe said. “He’s really pressed me to get higher DDs (degrees of difficulty) and perfect the entries and the execution.”
Only three of the six lanes were in use for most of the day, an empty lane between swimmers for their virtual opponents. Lauralton Hall swam more swimmers, though.
“I think you saw a lot of spirit,” Lauralton Hall coach Paul Katz said.
Law’s Rob Rosner, who like Katz was in his first meet as head coach, passed out a zippered plastic bag for each swimmer before the meet. She would finish her race and swim to the opposite end of the pool, where a teammate was waiting with that bag, containing her mask.
Officials couldn’t blow whistles — coronavirus — so blew an air horn to call swimmers to the start, more jarring than the buzzer that actually started each heat. In Branford, they tested different sounds, including a computerized whistle on one referee’s phone. The Guilford swimmers got a laugh out of it.
“While it is hard,” Condon said, “it’s worse not to be here.”
Things ended, actually, partly strangely, partly much as they would normally. Around 8:30 p.m., Lauralton gathered as gathered as they can be in these times, waved to the camera recording the meet for their parents, and then gave a cheer for their opponent — who’d left two hours earlier.
Pete Paguaga in Branford contributed to this report.
[email protected]; @fornabaioctp
Please go to CTPost.com HS News Feed to read full article.