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Shepaug Swimming: A Legacy of Success Continues. A story by John Torsiello.

POSTED February 01, 2011
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney


By, JOHN TORSIELLO

WASHINGTON-There’s no question, no doubt, what the most successful sports program has been in the Berkshire League during the past decade.

The Shepaug swim team has won nine straight BL titles and is clearly on its way to a remarkable 10th championship after improving its record to 6-0 in the league with a win over Northwestern Saturday night.

Not only have the Spartans dominated the last decade, they have won 27 league titles, a mark that few teams, if any, in Connecticut have equaled.

The Spartans win with different coaches (Todd Dyer replaced longtime mentor Dick Ayer six years ago), they win with different athletes, and they win against other very good teams--pretenders to the throne like Lewis Mills, Litchfield and Northwestern.

So, what’s the deal? Why all the success?

Well, for one, Shepaug is fortunate to have a pool located in the high school, which makes it easy for practices and meets. There is a vibrant junior high program that feeds youngsters into the high school squad. The coaching of Ayer and Dyer, a former standout at Regional 7 and the University of Connecticut and coach at E.O. Smith and Holy Cross high schools, has been exemplary. And there are the kids themselves, a bunch of dedicated swimmers and divers who want desperately to carry on the tradition of excellence established by their predecessors.

“Having had so much success in the past really makes us challenge ourselves to get better each year,” says Pat Firmender, a senior co-captain.

Adds fellow co-captain, senior Rich Baron, “The fact that we have won 29 out of 32 league championships makes us train that much harder to make sure we carry on the tradition.”

Said Firmender, “I had a brother and a cousin who swam on the team and they talked about it when I was younger and what a big deal it was. The kids who came before us instilled that feeling of legacy in us and we use that as a motivational tool.”

Dyer, a stern but affable leader who always seeks to bring out the best in each and every one of his three dozen swimmers, credits the junior high program with helping sustain the Shepaug mastery over the rest of the league.

“John Lavaway (his daughter, Colleen, is a senior co-captain on this year’s team) does a great job with the junior high kids and gets them ready to join the varsity. We also have a swim club here in the summer, which also helps.”

Shepaug needed an infusion of young talent this season, a year that Dyer approached rather skeptically.

“Our training was off a bit because we were training at the Glenhome school pool because ours was being repaired. And we lost a lot of talent to graduation and some holes to fill. Plus, I knew Litchfield had a very good team. Maybe this was the year that we didn't win the league. But we have had some great young kids come into the program and that has been a big help. I don’t worry anymore about us being ready to win another title.”

Shepaug had a huge win over Litchfield two weeks ago. Dyer called his squad’s win over the Cowboys “the biggest of the season” thus far. It was Litchfield’s first league loss after three straight victories.

Shepaug had great swims all across the board, with Freddie Pitcher, Firmender, Baron and Colin Reilly leading off the night by winning the 200-medley relay in a time of 2:02.58.

Griffin DeCaro won the IM with a 2:12.44 cocking and Baron took the 50-free in 24.2 seconds. Ross McKay won the diving portion of the meet and Firmender swam a 1:04.6 to capture the butterfly.

The Spartans continued to pile up points when Baron took the 100-free in a time of 54.96, and DeCaro took the 500-free in a time of 5:22.42.

Shepaug came close to wrapping up the win when the 200-free relay team of Firmender, Baron, Logan Ross and DeCaro won in a time of 5:47.40.

The Cowboys won the final three events but Pitcher and Jess Dumas went 1-2 in the backstroke, the third to last event, to clinch the win for the Washington team.

“Over 85 percent of our swims were season best or personal best,” said Dyer of the Litchfield meet.

Shepaug also beat Lewis Mills, a team that handed the Spartans their last regular season BL loss four years ago, early in the 2010-11 campaign.

“The weather has impacted our season more this year than I can remember in my career as a coach (1993 on),” said Dyer. “We have been making the best of it and pounding out big yardage on the days that we are in the pool. Surprisingly, I think in some ways this strategy is working for those who have made it to the pool through the ice and snow. Big swimming (six to seven thousand yards, more if we swim in the morning) then a rest, then a meet, seems to be the trend. This past week we swam big on Thursday (6,800 yards) and Friday (7,100 yards), Saturday easy, Monday hard yardage (6,500 yards), Tuesday a meet, Wednesday a 6 a.m. challenge practice and then off Wednesday, practice Thursday and Friday and Northwestern on Saturday.”

Dyer likes what he sees in his squad.

“The team is finally gelling together. With two weeks in Glenhome and all the weather it has taken us longer to put all the pieces together but I can see the team developing. As we began the season we did so with huge losses due to graduation but also with amazing potential. I think that in spite of the weather that potential is finally coming out. We will see as we are tested this week with Torrington on Wednesday and Simsbury on Friday, both at home. They will be great competition.”

Junior DeCaro has been one of the team’s best swimmers. He’s the defending BL 500-free champ and has been swimming the IM this season along with junior Tommy Morse.

Others who have contributed heavily include sophomore Jess Dumas in the backstroke, freshman Clara Wolfe in the distance freestyle events, sophomore Riley in the freestyles, Baron in the 500-free, Firmender in the butterfly and other events, sophomore Ross in the sprint frees and butterfly, junior Gina DeMeo (junior co-captain) in the freestyles, returning senior divers McKay and Spencer Fappiano and two new divers, both seniors, Ed Andrews and Mario Micheal.

“We lost all our divers from last season but we have new people, including Ross and Spencer, who dove as freshmen and sophomores but missed their junior seasons because of injuries suffered in a car accident,” said Dyer.

He added, “It’s a good balance of kids this year. The younger ones are constantly pressing the older kids and that makes for good competition in practices.”

Just what the rest of the Berkshire League needs, Shepaug getting better as the season progresses.

 

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