NAUGATUCK – With a mix of talented, experienced, and up-and-coming swimmers, the Naugatuck boys swim team is poised to defend its Naugatuck Valley League championship.
The large roster is stacked with swimmers who range from versatile, multi-event competitors to specialists looking to expand their repertoire.
If last weekend’s NVL invitational meet is any sign of things to come, Naugy is in prime position to compete for its fifth-straight league crown.
The Greyhounds have posted times in the preseason that illustrate to Coach Jim McKee that the best may be yet to come. Results have been encouraging.
“We have had guys come close to what should be end-of-the-year times in their first meet,” McKee said.
The Hounds will be led by five senior captains, Jake Branco, Kyle Conrad, Kevin McMullen, Jim Streifel and Jim Vaz. Each has special skills.
Branco, who missed the invitational, has shown huge improvements in the preseason and will be focusing on the freestyle events.
Conrad, who won the 100 free at the NVL meet last year, has improved in the 200 free and butterfly.
McKee said Conrad may be the fastest swimmer on the team.
“You’d swear he swam all year long,” McKee said of Conrad. “The sky’s the limit for him.”
McMullen may be McKee’s most flexible option. He can swim breaststroke and IM, but his best event is freestyle.
“Kevin can swim everything,” McKee said.
Streifel, an NVL finalist in the backstroke, will see time in the back and freestyle events.
Vaz, who swam on the state championship 200 free relay team last year, will compete in freestyle events.
McKee noted the work of the divers, who played a vital part in last year’s league title. Naugy had four divers in the NVL top 13.
Seniors Joe Caputo and Nakeem Robinson, along with juniors Kaitlin Carter and Isabelle Moody were all NVL diving finalists last year. Sophomore Ryan Lewis and freshman Frank Ruella will also have diving duties for the Hounds.
Alex Grasso, a senior and state finalist in the backstroke, will also see time in the IM and freestyle events.
Dan Buckley, also a senior, has been a hard worker and will compete in the 50 and 100 free.
Senior Riker Mitchell, a league finalist in the backstroke the last two years, will join his brother, Richard, who will work in the butterfly. Fellow seniors Jeff O’Brien (distance and IM), Dan Sigetti (breaststroke), and Tyler Mitchell will add depth.
The junior class is headlined by Chris Branco, who won the 200 freestyle at the NVLs last year, and Will Wright, perhaps the most-improved member of the team, according to McKee.
“Chris is well ahead of where he was last year,” McKee said. “Will is ready to break out.”
David Brazee can swim several events, including the back, IM and butterfly. McKee spoke highly of exchange student Harold Hersted, who could compete with some of the best swimmers in the league by the end of the season.
Other juniors who will give McKee more options include Tom Coyle, Art Keong and Nick Streifel.
McKee said he expects the sophomores to contribute to the squad this year. Mikhail Burdoev (butterfly, IM and free), Kaio Bonaparte, Matt Hall (free and butterfly), Eric Hanley (free and breaststroke), Scott Sill (free and breaststroke) and George Vygoder (distance and breaststroke) could all play a key role.
The coach said he needs younger swimmers to expand their roles to be able to move faster, more experienced swimmers to other events.
“Their value of these guys will allow me to move other people around,” McKee said.
Freshmen Adam Branco, Jake Morrissey, Namgyal Rakagme and Mitch Santos will all look to gain experience.
If everything comes together, McKee said this year’s team should be up near the top of the NVL. A fifth-consecutive title is not out of the question.
“We’ll be in the hunt for it,” McKee said.