Hawks raise the bar for swimming program

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

A runner-up performance at the Naugatuck Valley League championships left first-year Woodland boys swimming coach Brendan Heller with no complaints.

After all, the Hawks came so close to preventing Holy Cross from winning a seventh straight title, they knocked down a slew of school records, and almost everybody posted lifetime-best performances when it mattered most.

“We did everything we wanted to do,” said Heller, whose team was edged by Holy Cross, 831-821, in a championship staged through a series of two-team competitions March 24-26. “We put together the best meet we could have, and we just fell a little short. Nothing went wrong — the other team just did a little bit better.”

Woodland junior Jake Arisian was the star of the meet, breaking a pair of NVL meet records and a 27-year-old league record en route to a two-gold-medal performance.

Arisian, who set six individual school records and a relay school record this season, won the 100 butterfly in a blistering 49.80 seconds, topping the league record held by Naugatuck’s Dan Freddino since 1994. He won the race by nearly two seconds.

That time also puts him in All-American consideration. The 100 high school swimmers with the best marks in that event by June will earn the accolade.

Heller knew right away that his star swimmer was in for a fast night when the Hawks squared off against the Crusaders to swim their final times March 24.

“Even in the [meet-opening 200] medley relay, we got out-touched by 0.23 seconds — he swam a 22.08-second butterfly split. That [would] have won the 50 free,” said Heller, referencing the 22.32-second winning time in that race. “When I saw that, I knew it would be a good night for him. I heard him talking a few nights earlier that he wanted to go 49 [seconds in the 100 fly], and I thought it was ambitious, but he did it.”

Arisian also set the NVL meet record with a 51.29-second mark in the 100 backstroke. He picked up a pair of silver medals in helping the 200 medley team with Patrick Zieba, Tyler Cyr and Noah Scott and 200 free squad with Zieba, Scott and Aiden Kennedy to runner-up performances.

The Hawks’ other gold medalist was junior diver D.J. Mulligan, who cruised past the opposition to win his first league championship with 412.80 points. DeAngelo Allen finished third with 340.80 points and Taha Turshani was eighth with 205.15 points.

“He set a goal to win the championship — he told me that on the first day (of practice),” Heller said of Mulligan. “All the guys that had beaten him the previous year graduated, so I knew we could work for it. Al Ricard, our diving coach, did a terrific job with our guys this year.”

Other top-10 finishers for the Hawks included Cyr (third in the 100 breaststroke, ninth in the 200 individual medley), Zieba (third in the 100 backstroke, seventh in the 200 IM), Scott (fourth in both the 50 free and the 100 free), Chase Starzman (fifth in the 500 free, eighth in the 200 free), Kennedy (sixth in the 200 free, seventh in the 100 free), Tyler MacDowall (sixth in the 100 breaststroke, 10th in the 100 fly), Kian Sirowich (ninth in the 100 fly) and Hunter Morgan (10th in the 100 backstroke).

The Hawks also finished fourth in the 400 free relay with Kennedy, Starzman, Sirowich and Cyr swimming the final event.

Woodland built a large early lead in the meet — which was scored by accumulating all the times swam by teams in their final meet, some of which were with an opponent and others of which were individual — thanks to the diving standings. The Hawks still led by two points entering the final night of meets, but results in the Watertown-Torrington finale pushed Woodland’s point total down enough for the Crusaders to rise to the top.

Still, Heller said he couldn’t have imagined his team swimming better than the Hawks did during their final races.

“From top to bottom, everyone improved all season long,” Heller said. “The times at NVLs were probably 98% lifetime bests. As a coach, you can’t ask better than that. If guys swim better than they’ve ever swam, that’s the best. We’ve definitely raised the bar for the Woodland swimming and diving program. I’m looking forward to keeping the bar there and raising it further in the future.”