In-person meet gives Hawks ‘extra oomph’

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Emme Starzman does the breaststroke while competing in the 200 medley relay during a meet against Oxford at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls Oct. 13. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Swimming against Oxford on Oct. 13 was particularly enjoyable for the Woodland girls.

Sure, the Hawks liked the 94-84 victory they earned over the Wolverines, but they relished the opportunity to actually swim against opponents in adjacent lanes — which isn’t happening a lot this season.

“We truly enjoy the in-person meets because that’s what competition is all about — face to face,” Woodland coach Mike Magas said. “The girls definitely miss it.”

The CIAC recommended this year that schools consider virtual meets to increase safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. For virtual meets, each team swims at its own pool and coaches share the times from each race. Standings and points are then added up to determine a winner.

Among the NVL South division this season, Woodland, Seymour and Oxford have chosen to compete in traditional, in-person meets, while Naugatuck and Watertown chose the virtual option.

“We definitely understand other schools’ decisions,” Magas said.

Woodland started the season 2-1 with an Oct. 6 win over Watertown, an Oct. 9 loss in Seymour, and the victory over Oxford. Magas and his swimmers say it’s hard to tell exactly what impact virtual vs. in-person meets have on times.

Woodland’s Maura Beltrami does the butterfly while competing in the 200 medley relay during a meet against Oxford at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls Oct. 13. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“It’s hard to put a number or a figure on it, but maybe it’s 5 or 10% (slower) time-wise,” Magas said of virtual meets. “I know from my own personal background and seeing kids over the years, when you go up against competition, you have some extra oomph. The girls have really been putting in great efforts in the virtual meets, but there’s still a difference. It’s the complete package — looking over to the next lane, those nerves, so it’s a lot different.”

Senior co-captain Samantha Erickson agrees with her coach but thinks her team, which includes 33 swimmers, creates an energetic atmosphere that helps boost performances in virtual meets.

“We’re definitely missing the intimidation factor, where you can see the other team there,” Erickson told the Republican-American, “but when you have a great group of girls who are so competitive, I think we’re still able to swim as if it’s a meet.”

Fellow co-captain Emily Beyer echoed Erickson’s sentiments.

“Usually, our races are pretty tight still within ourselves, so we’re still racing some pretty good times,” Beyer told the Rep-Am.

Those times added up to an easy win over the Wolverines on Oct. 13. Kyla Behrle was part of four victories, including individual wins in the 200 individual medley (2:23.98) and 100 butterfly (1:03.70). Maura Beltrami (2:19.14, 200 freestyle), Molly Kennedy (27 seconds, 50 free), Ella Bernegger (200.40 points, diving) and Emme Starzman (59.07 seconds, 100 free) also won individual events.

Woodland’s Maura Beltrami competes in the 200 freestyle during a meet against Oxford at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls Oct. 13. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Behrle, Starzman, Beltrami and Kennedy won the 200 medley relay in 2:01.70, and Sarah Cooley, Kennedy, Beltrami and Behrle touched first in the 200 free relay in 1:54.46.

Starzman, a freshman, burst onto the scene in her first high school meet against Watertown by breaking Dia Gawronski’s school record in the 100 breaststroke, setting a new mark of 1:13.21.

Magas said plans for the end of the season are still up in the air. The final scheduled meet of the regular season is Nov. 2 in a virtual battle against Naugatuck. The league is working on plans for a postseason meet, but with those plans still unknown, Magas said “it puts us in a bind” because it’s hard to know the target date for which swimmers should be tapered and at peak speed.

Still, the Hawks are happy to compete in any fashion for as long as possible.

“For the girls on the team, we tell them to swim your heart out every chance you get,” senior co-captain Spenser Burkowsky told the Rep-Am. “Put 100% into practice (and) leave it all in the pool because you don’t know. We don’t know if this could be our last meet. We don’t know what will happen.”