Jen Friscia and Cara McCarthy leading Raiders swim team in 2015.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO By head coach Katie Gregory’s own admission, the Torrington High School girls swim team is in somewhat of a rebuilding year. But that isn’t stopping the Raiders from working hard to at least duplicate last year’s fourth place showing at the Naugatuck Valley League Championships and point to the future with a sense of optimism.
“We are a much smaller team than we are used too,” says Gregory, whose team faces a big test at Naugatuck this evening in what she indicates will be a close meet. “We have lost key swimmers over the past few years and we have graduated very large senior classes the past three years. My expectations this year are to improve on individual times and to hold our own at the NVL finals. We already have Jess Gray qualified for states in the 100-backstroke. We are hoping to get girls qualified in a few more events.”
THS, which had a runoff three straight VL titles a few years back, has scored wins over Wilby, St. Paul’s Catholic, Holy Cross and Kennedy and lost to Watertown and Seymour in the rough and tumble NVL. Gregory, whose squad won five meets a year ago, has also been hurt by injuries and illness thus far, which she says has held her squad’s development back a bit.
“The team has been trying hard but struggling with injuries and illnesses. With such a small team it is critical that we have everyone healthy and swimming. I give the girls a lot of credit in that they swim very hard at tougher meets. Even if we lose, the girls usually get their fastest times at these meets. That's what I like to see. It's not so much about the wins and losses, but watching the girls improve each meet and see their hard work pay off.”
As mentioned, the Raiders capped off last season by finishing fourth at the NVL’s and then took 10 girls to the state trials, with three qualifying for the state finals. Going into this season the Raiders had to overcome the loss of several top swimmers from a year ago.
“Payton Welch was a huge loss from last year,” says Gregory. “She was a strong swimmer, someone I could put in any event and she could win it. She was our top 200-IM and butterfly swimmer with Cara McCarthy (this year’s co-captain). This year Cara has shoulder issues and is only able to swim sprint freestyles. She is by far our top sprint freestyler, but it was nice having her last year in those events too. We are lucky she is still able to compete, as she is a key swimmer this year for us in top relays and sprint free races.”
In addition to McCarthy, the Raiders are led by Gray, a co-captain who swims the 200-free and 100-back. Jen Friscia swims the 200-free and 500-free and/or the 100-back. “Jen has been having an amazing year and looks great in the water,” says Gregory. “She is a hard worker and sets a great example at practice. McCarthy is also a co-captain and “has proven very helpful in the sprint freestyle events (50- and 100-free).” All three are seniors. “We have Woodland in another week and that will no doubt be a close meet,” says Gregory. “I have created a few different lineups for both the Naugy and Woodland and I have scored them both out. If each swimmer goes those times both meets are going to be super close. They can go either way. I can't wait to get the girls pumped up and excited for the meets.”
As for what the team needs to work on during the season’s final weeks, Gregory says,”We need to stay healthy and just continue to work hard. We don't get as much pool time as all of the other school, so it's critical that the girls use the valuable time we do have (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 to 9:30 p.m.). Other teams have unlimited time in the pool, or at least are able to hold practice six days a week if need be. This extra time gives them the opportunity to practice little things like starts, turns, and finishes that are critical in races. We need to practice those during actual sets because we need to stay in shape.”