By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
BEACON FALLS — Woodland girls swim coach Mike Magas equates the sport to a game of chess. Players have to put the right pieces — in his case swimmers — in the right place on the chess board to be successful.
The longtime swim coach has a luxury at his disposal when planning out his moves — a deep and talented roster that allows him to try swimmers in different events during the season to see where they and the team can excel.
“That gives us a luxury come NVL championship time,” Magas said. “I can move girls into different events that I didn’t know I was able to do.”
The Hawks — the reigning Naugatuck Valley League champions from 2019 — made all the right moves in their 6-0 start to the season that included wins over Kennedy, 73-46, Oct. 1 and Oxford, 99-78, Oct. 5.
“We are in a great place. Starting from Day 1, the girls have been working hard both in the pool, the swimmers, and on the board, the divers,” Magas said. “We’ve gone through some minor injuries but we’re slowly overcoming that, and we’re starting to see some times drop and the divers’ scores increase.”
Coming into the season, Magas knew what he had with the team’s upperclassmen, led by seniors Kyla Behrle, Brooke Reilly, Shaelin DiGioia, Adrianna Heeman and Kayleigh Theroux.
Behrle took first in the 200 IM (2:24.58) against Kennedy and followed that up by winning the 100 butterfly (1:03.17) in the Oxford meet. Reilly was part of the 200 medley relay team that placed first (2:18.54) against Kennedy.
Magas said the junior class, including Molly Kennedy, Dylan Burkowsky, Maura Beltrami, Sarah Cooley, Liana Demirs and Mia Sansone, has been really key.
Kennedy won the 50 free (26.56) against Oxford and was part of winning 200 medley relay teams against Kennedy and Oxford. Beltrami swam the third leg of the medley relay in the Oxford meet, and Sansone was part of the winning 200 free relay squad against Oxford.
The team’s underclassmen are making their mark, as well.
Magas knew sophomore Emme Starzman, who set the school record in the 100 breaststroke last year, would continue her torrid pace this season. She won the 100 butterfly (1:02.62) and swam the first leg of the 200 medley relay against Kennedy.
Magas said sophomore Olivia Schwenger has also stepped up. She helped the 200 free relay team claim victory in the Oxford meet.
Magas added freshmen Laura DeGennaro, Josie Nesta and Molly Stead have been off the charts. Degennaro (100 free, 58.05) and Nesta (200 free, 2:22.98) each won events against Kennedy.
“They have given us a lot of flexibility,” Magas said.
The Hawks also have the luxury of going five divers deep, led by junior Ella Bernegger, who won the event at the Kennedy and Oxford meets. There’s plenty of depth behind Bernegger with Theroux, who won NVL diving championship in 2019, Heeman, Shaelin DiGioia and Madison Harte.
“We know that we can count on them for points,” said Magas, who credited diving coach Michele Griffith for the development of the divers.
Magas said the team’s goal is to compete for a league championship, and acknowledged the road ahead will be challenging for the Hawks. That road starts Oct. 8 with meet against Naugatuck, one of the teams Magas pointed to as a contender for the title along with Seymour, Oxford and Watertown.
“It’s going to be a challenging year,” he said. “We definitely want to try our best to compete for another championship.”
Magas has a pretty straightforward approach to reach the team’s goal.
“Stay healthy, stay focused, stay hungry, and don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
After the Naugatuck meet, Woodland is scheduled to face Suffield Oct. 12 in an out-of-league meet before hosting Torrington Oct. 15.