From dog paddle to All-NVL a look back at the Torrington swimming season

Torrington High School swimming and diving team coaches and seniors at Sunday's year-end banquet are, front row, left to right: head coach Andrew Marchand, Ernie Tracy, Carlos Bravo, Salma Malik, assistant coach Erin Sullivan. Second row, left to right: Chris Parrotta, Dave Cilfone, co-captain Brad Nichols, co-captain Griffin Pelkey. Peter Wallace - Register Citizen

Torrington High School swimming and diving team coaches and seniors at Sunday’s year-end banquet are, front row, left to right: head coach Andrew Marchand, Ernie Tracy, Carlos Bravo, Salma Malik, assistant coach Erin Sullivan. Second row, left to right: Chris Parrotta, Dave Cilfone, co-captain Brad Nichols, co-captain Griffin Pelkey.
Peter Wallace – Register Citizen

TORRINGTON >> Swimming, as practiced…and practiced…and practiced by Torrington High School’s team, is often about making great things out of nothing.

“We want to see you do things you don’t think you can do,” said Coach Andrew Marchand at the team’s season-ending banquet Sunday night at the Cornucopia Banquet Facility. “We know what you can do.”

Senior after senior stepped to the podium, testifying to the power of that wisdom.

“I never swam before my freshman year,” said co-captain Brad Nichols. “This year, we took third place at NVLs, third place at States (Class M). That is amazing.”

“We’re losing quite a bit this year (co-captains Nichols and Griffin Pelkey and fellow seniors Carlos Bravo, David Cilfone, Salma Malik, Chris Parrotta and Ernie Tracy),” said Marchand. “As far as I know, we’re not getting anyone who can swim, but that hasn’t stopped us before.

“Bring us some bodies,” he grins.

The team regularly sees new members who can’t swim or show major discomfort with putting their faces in the water.

“We saved two swimmers on the first day of practice this year,” Marchand only half-kids.

That’s the beginning — the “nothing.”

Sunday was the day for honoring the “great things” those first-day non-swimmers and veterans accomplish.

In a group in which only junior stars Matt Traub and Jack Wassik came to the team with competitive experience, Cilfone, Nichols and Pelkey joined them as All-NVL swimmers; Traub, Wassik, Pelkey and Nichols were All-State in Class M, then finished second in the state in the 200-yard medley relay.

With extra experience, Traub set league and pool records in the backstroke. He was Outstanding Swimmer at the NVL and at Class M, with wins in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard individual medley.

Wassik was second in the 500 freestyle for another individual Class M All-State honor.

The junior standouts had a long head start on most of the Red Raiders.

“Four years ago, we couldn’t swim and now we’re in the NVLs,” Pelkey marveled with his teammates, then went on to win the 100-yard breaststroke.

Pelkey recalls his mother’s advice — “If you want your times to go down, swim faster.” — then dissects that simple formula into hard work and its rub-off effect — the importance of integrity.

“You start with nothing and build into something great,” he repeats.

The effect emerges with or without individual honors.

Diving coach Mike Michaud talks about the courage and hard work of first-year diving senior Salma Malik, withstanding his opening challenge of a reverse dive, then moving on to 10 more dives by season’s end.

“We share one board (at the Winsted YMCA) with two schools and 15 people, three days a week,” he said.

Marchand talks about a sophomore who almost threw up before every meet and the ritual conversation they had each time.

“Coach, I can’t do it.”

“Yes you can.”

It’s the lesson they all learned, whether Traub was setting new records or a freshman or sophomore was discovering he or she could survive a tough process.

They encourage each other in the process.

“Matt Traub could be swimming on a USA team, but he chooses to swim with you guys,” said Marchand.

“Our swimmers swim faster on relays because they let it all out for their teams.”

The bottom line is ongoing success for the Raiders.

“Every year, the goal is to win,” said Marchand. “Our people dropped their times like crazy before the NVL meet, then we had the best state meet trials we’ve ever had. Going in, I figured eighth. We took third, ahead of some great, great programs.”

“It’s been the most enjoyable period of my life,” said Nichols.

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