Woodland girls swimming success built on trust

Woodland swimmers celebrate after it was announced that they won the Naugatuck Valley League title during the NVL girls swimming championship Nov. 8 at Kennedy High School in Waterbury. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — It sounds like one of the taglines for an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary.

What if I told you the secret for Woodland’s recent championship success in NVL girls swimming is YouTube?

Those who want to be the best try to learn from the best. Longtime Woodland girls swim coach Mike Magas believes in that idea, so he’s spent the last few years researching different training styles employed by some of America’s top collegiate coaches.

“We do (workouts) sometimes that are different than normal swim teams, and they’re not my inventions,” Magas said a week after the Hawks won their second Naugatuck Valley League title in the last three seasons. “I follow a lot of Olympic-level training — USC swim coach Dave Salo, (former Michigan swim coach) Jon Urbanchek — I follow their philosophies, and it’s definitely different.”

Walk into a Woodland swim practice and each day — maybe each quarter-hour — is different. Every swimmer has a practice itinerary transparently soaked onto her kickboard, and those workouts aren’t haphazardly put together to build stamina.

There are sprints and recovery laps. There are laps with kickboards. There are laps with flippers — “I want the girls getting used to swimming fast,” Magas said — and there are laps with rubber bands. There is variety in the types and durations of workouts, all of which has required his swimmers to trust Magas over the years.

“The girls have bought in. I tell them all year to trust me and believe in what we’re doing,” Magas said. “Sometimes it’s hard for swimmers to understand what they’re doing in workouts, but the end result showed that we were right.”

Another key component of the program’s recent success is the swim program at Long River Middle School. Magas himself took over that program earlier in the decade, and this year’s senior class — which includes Lauren Avery, Hailey Bernier, Casey Brooks, Victoria Gugliotti, Mairead Reilly, Aly Rojcov, Grace Rua, Morgan Swift and Camille Terrell — was his very first group of sixth-graders in 2013-14.

“The seniors now were in sixth grade, and I tried to instill the philosophy of working hard and having fun,” Magas said. “Two years ago, it paid off (with an NVL championship) because those (seniors) were in eighth grade when I started coaching there. A lot of the girls in high school, I coached in middle school. They know what to expect, and now we’ve built a program.”

Not only is the expectation set, but the sport is becoming more popular in the region.

“Our numbers are through the roof,” Magas noted. “We had 33 girls this year — that’s the most we’ve ever had.”

That depth was also the reason the Hawks won this year’s league championship, edging powerhouse Seymour by two points last month.

Although Magas has decided to resign as Long River’s coach — he’ll be Nonnewaug’s coach this winter, which he said fits his personal schedule a bit better — he looks forward to the success continuing at both the middle school and Woodland for years to come.

After all, in some ways, this success is nothing new.

“It’s pretty sweet. The girls always have worked hard in my 16 years,” Magas said. “We’ve had some amazing girls come through this program.”