Hawks adjusting on the fly

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Aiden Kennedy swims the 500 freestyle during a virtual meet against Seymour Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The wrenches keep flying into the Woodland boys swim team’s wacky season.

Already swimming a pandemic-crunched slate full of virtual meets, the Hawks’ first three scheduled meets went something like this:

Feb. 16 virtual meet vs. Crosby-Waterbury Career: Woodland swam its portion of the events as scheduled, but the Bulldogs experienced COVID-related delays and didn’t swim its events until almost a week later. The Hawks ended up winning, 100-55.

Feb. 19 meet at Torrington: One of just four in-person meets on the Hawks’ schedule, the road trip was postponed due to bad weather. It will be difficult to make up due to the compressed schedule.

Feb. 23 virtual meet vs. Seymour: Again, Woodland swam its events as scheduled, but a malfunction with Seymour’s pool prevented the Wildcats from swimming on the same day. The result of the meet isn’t yet known.

“It’s crazy,” first-year coach Brendan Heller said. “We’re staying in our own lane right now, no pun intended. Everything’s on plan as far as what we need to do. The snow days have been a pain, but we’re keeping up. It’s like 2020 continued.”

Woodland’s Noah Berhle does the breaststroke while competing in the 200 individual medley during a virtual meet against Seymour Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The uncertain start has actually been a positive in terms of easing the team — especially freshmen — into the season, according to Heller.

“It’s been a good way to start with low pressure,” Heller said. “[The seniors are] doing a great job of keeping the new guys engaged and showing them the ropes. It’s weird to have a swim meet without an opponent, so they’re really trying to get them up to speed. You come in as a freshman and don’t know even the order of the meet, and everyone’s doing a great job.”

One of those freshmen, Chase Starzman, has emerged as one of the team’s better performers in the early going. He posted the team’s best 500 freestyle time in one of the opening meets.

“Chase Starzman is a new guy and has been doing really well,” Heller said. “He’s been a nice surprise and works really hard.”

Nobody’s been as good as junior Jake Arisian, though. Arisian broke two school records in each of his first two meets, making him a four-time record-holder while barely having scratched the surface of this season.

Woodland’s Patrick Zieba swims the 200 freestyle during a virtual meet against Seymour Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

He broke the school records in the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke in the meet against Crosby-WCA, and he took down the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly records against Seymour. Heller thinks more records will fall soon.

“Jake can swim every single event — that’s the beauty of it,” Heller said. “We keep mixing it up. I don’t know where we’ll have him in the championships yet, but every event he’s swum so far, he’s set the school record. He’s an animal.”

Heller also credited seniors Pat Zieba and Noah Scott, who are both leaders and have championship-winning experience.

“Pat and Noah are seniors whom I can put anywhere and they’ll do great,” Heller said. “We’re looking for the mid-tier guys to step up and get some points. If we can get four guys scoring in the NVL meet, that’s how you win a championship.”

Woodland boys swim team captains, from left, Riley Muricchio, Patrick Zieba, Brooke Iannone, Noah Scott and Noah Behrle. -CONTRIBUTED

Although the championship season is still a few weeks away, Heller and the Hawks already have their eyes set on the road to that point.

Next up is an unheard-of Monday-Wednesday-Friday meet schedule in which the Hawks are set to face Kennedy on March 1 and Naugatuck on March 3 in virtual settings, before hosting Sacred Heart on March 5 in the first in-person meet of the season.

“We’re really looking forward to Sacred Heart on Friday,” Heller said. “That’s our senior night and we get another team into the pool. It’s Sacred Heart’s last season, too, so we’re really looking forward to having them. I hope to acknowledge their whole team.”

Virtual meets against Wilby-Kaynor Tech and Watertown are still on the slate, followed by home in-person meets against Holy Cross and Oxford in mid-March.

“Those in-person meets will help get us ready for NVLs,” Heller said. “I’m hoping that our depth will lead us to a championship.”