Middletown High’s Matt Dagenais isn’t a good swimmer. He’s a great swimmer. Only a junior, he already accomplished things of which most can only dream.
As a sophomore he was the Class L champion in the 200 yard individual medley — an event in which a kid swims 50 yards each of the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle — and the 100 yard backstroke. For that, he was named Class L’s Most Valuable Swimmer.
He topped that by winning the State Open in the 200 IM.
This year he’s picked up where he left off. He holds two all-time individual MHS records in the 200 IM and the 100 yard butterfly. He also swam a leg of the school record-setting 200 yard medley relay, the 200 yard freestyle relay and the 400 yard freestyle relay. The kid’s name is on the record board five times.
“It won’t be long before he breaks the 200 yard freestyle record,” said his coach, Trevor Charles. “Matt is one of the best swimmers in the history of Middletown High, for any coach in any era.”
While Dagenais wins every time out, he’s a team guy first and as such, has been asked to swim a variety of events, doing whatever is necessary to give his 8-2 team an advantage.
After his team’s win over the Bristol co-operative team Tuesday, Dagenais said, “It was not a bad day. I was able to swim the 200 IM, which I haven’t been able to swim for a while and it was good to get back to that. I had a pretty good time in the 100 freestyle, too. The days off because of snow has made it a bit harder, but this year has been good.”
“Matt is so versatile,” said Charles, whose team has aspirations of finishing high in the Class L state meet.. “We move him around. When it comes to the conference meet [March 8 at Bulkeley in Hartford] and the state meets [middle of March], he’ll swim what’s best for him and the team.”
Dagenais continued his superior season by winning the 200 IM and the 100 yard backstroke in an easy win over Berlin Friday. After meets against Plainville, Hall, Bulkeley and Xavier, comes the postseason, which is what all the top-level swimmers gear their seasons towards.
“Then I’ll see where I am,” said Dagenais. “And we’ll figure out what’s the best plan.”
There are lot of first-rate male athletes around town. Dario Highsmith (MHS football), Elijah Pemberton (Xavier basketball), Will Chowanec (Xavier wrestling) and Dan Kinney (MHS diver) immediately come to mind. Matt Dagenais is right here with them.
MERCY SCARY GOOD
Conventional wisdom said that Mercy would be good this year. Not as good as last year’s LL champs — the Tigers graduated so many players — but yeah, pretty good.
Pretty good my foot. The Tigers are 18-0 and are steam rolling everyone in sight. Will they win back-to-back Class LL crowns? I dunno. In one and done tourneys, a bad shooting night, foul trouble or a key injury could end their season.
If I were a betting man — I don’t even buy lottery tickets — this is the last team I would bet against.
Each year someone writes — OK, I write — that Mercy doesn’t rebuild; it reloads. There are good teams lying in the weeds. South Windsor is 16-0 and a number of teams have just one loss, so the Tigers could get beat.
But if Mercy is playing at Mohegan Sun on the weekend of March 22 and 23, would you be surprised? Me neither.
I’ve been reminding all about this coming Tuesday for a while. If you are a high school basketball fan, there is no reason to stay home Tuesday. The question is: Which big game will you attend? In no special order, here are three top-flight city options:
1. Bristol Central (13-2) at Middletown (10-5). MHS is scorching hot. The Blue Dragons have won seven in a row and nine of their last 10. They got a very nice win at 11-4 Maloney Friday night, 51-47. This game has CCC South title implications.
2. Fairfield Prep (15-0, ranked No. 1 in LL and in the polls) at Xavier (12-4). The Falcons dispatched Notre Dame (11-4) Friday night and West Haven Sunday. I know Prep blasted Xavier by 30+ points a few weeks back. But the Falcs were without Elijah Pemberton and that was then and this is now.
Pascal Chukwu — all 7 feet plus of him — anchors the Prep defense and the Jesuits have dispatched all who have shown up. Let’s see if the Falcons can do what nobody has done.
3. Cheshire (10-7) at Mercy (18-0). It’s not expected to be much of a game, but it’s Mercy’s Senior Night. If you’re a Mercy fan, you have to be there.
A terrific Tuesday in Middletown.
The death of baseball Hall of Famer and New York Met broadcaster Ralph Kiner brought back memories. Unlike most other sports, the radio and TV voices of baseball teams become part of the fabric of a team.
While growing up — I think I’ve finished that process — I spent uncounted hours listening to Mel Allen, Red Barber, Phil Rizzuto and Bill White do Yankee games. Allen’s home run call: “It’s going, going, gone!” is one of the iconic calls.
Rizzuto’s birthday and anniversary announcements got in the way of the game, but no one cared. He also was the perfect foil for pro Bill White: “Hey, White, did you see that?” And, “Bill what happened on that play? I put down WW — wasn’t watching.” Rizzuto the announcer became as much a part of the Yankees as Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Rizzuto the player.
Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Kiner were to Mets’ fans as much a part of the team as Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. When the Mets won game six in 1986 over the Red Sox on Bill Buckner’s error, Murphy’s simple call: “The Mets win, they win!” still gives Mets’ fans goose bumps.
Red Sox radio man Joe Castiglione, a notorious but loveable homer, owns the greatest call in Sox history when, in 2004, he intoned: “The Red Sox are World Champions. Can you believe it?”
And today, John Sterling, the radio voice of the Yankees — and baseball is still best on the radio, preferably on a beach — makes me smile with his over-the-top home run calls: “He sends a Tex Message to the right field stands. You’re on the mark, Teixeira!” or my favorite, when Curtis Granderson would homer, Sterling would break into song to the tune of Sammy Davis Jr.’s Candy Man, singing, “Oh, the Grandy Man can.”
With the passing of Kiner, another of those great, great voices is stilled.
AND DOWN THE ROAD
Feel like planning ahead? Then jot down some big games/meets coming up. The MHS swim team hosts Hall of West Hartford Wednesday at 4 p.m. in a make-up meet. That ought to be a good one. MHS will swim Xavier on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at Wesleyan, resuming a series that has long been dormant.
The Cromwell girls host 13-3 H-K tonight, then 13-3 Coginchaug Wednesday. Shoreline Conference girls basketball is really, really good.
On Feb. 21, there are a couple of good attractions. The headliner is Valley Regional at Cromwell boys. Valley is 12-3, Cromwell 12-2. The Panthers’ two losses were to Bristol Central of the CCC — and 65-62 to Valley.
Mercy’s final regular season game is Feb. 18 at Career. That will determine whether the Tigers get through the season undefeated.
HERE AND THERE
A player for Maloney had an uncontested layup against the Middletown girls Friday night … that’s not remarkable except that the kid put it in the wrong basket … Tamyia King, the closest MHS player, got credit for the hoop … didn’t make any difference … MHS won 61-29 to improve to 11-6.
WCNXradio.com will broadcast the H-K/Cromwell girls tonight, the Cheshire at Mercy game Tuesday, the Coginchaug at Cromwell girls Wednesday and the Hand at Xavier game Friday … some 1,476 were logged on to the Cromwell vs. Morgan game Thursday.
Have to report the not-so-good, too … Mercy’s cheerleaders finished 12th out of 12 teams at the SCC cheerleading championships on Feb. 1 … heck, I’d rather the kids led cheers rather than engaged in competitions … and I thought the team was pretty good, but cheerleading competitions seem to me to be more about doing exotic stuff than, uhhh, leading cheers … Nate Roy, Cody Carrillo, Jamar Jones and Jacob Grasis are very good wrestlers for MHS … but otherwise the team is very young … still, the Dragons win more than they lose … Mark Fong can coach.
Xavier’s wrestlers keep rolling along … undefeated in dual meets against state competition … the SCC girls basketball playoffs begin Feb. 20 at the higher seeds … the 16-team CCC girls playoffs begin the same day in the same way … the CCC finals aren’t until March 4 … the boys CCC playoffs begin, with 16 teams, on Feb. 27 … the final game is March 6 at CCSU … these are dragged out as the state title games are a week later on March 22 and 23, so the state playoffs won’t begin until well into March.
Which leads to this: seems like football disease is catching up with a high school basketball postseason that lasts longer than a month … if we didn’t let bad 8-12 teams in, then we could shorten the postseason to something sensible … I’ll say it again … not everyone deserves a trophy.
The Super Bowl was a dog, but I liked the Budweiser and Coca-Cola commercials … some 111 million people watched the Super Bowl … which means that over 200 million Americans did not … Russia’s vicious anti-gay laws should not be overlooked in the Olympic hoopla … the world did that once in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, remember?
Xavier’s hockey team is 5-8-1 following a 1-1 tie Saturday with LaSalle of Rhode Island … Rocky Hill/ Middletown/RHAM co-op is 2-10 … Lyman Hall/H-K coop is 4-8 … Xavier’s indoor track team finished 17th in the Class LL meet Saturday.
MHS’ boys swimming streak is remarkable … the team has had 30 consecutive winning seasons with a couple of state championships … MHS has historically swum a competitive schedule with the likes of Hall, Conard, Farmington, East Lyme, Glastonbury and Wethersfield outside of its CCC South division commitments.
Wrestling postseason begins this week … both the CCC and SCC championships are this weekend, the Class LL (Xavier) and L (MHS) meets are next weekend, the State Open is the weekend after that and the New Englands will be March 7 … swimming postseason is in March, with the State Open on March 22 at Yale … the State Open diving finals will be at MHS on March 20.
An A-Rod thought now that he has called off the legal dogs … he was one of the all time greats … to perform at that level, to make stupendous amounts of money, is intoxicating … to be faced with the reality of advancing age and the loss of all that must be frightening … when he stops playing baseball, what is he going to do with the next 40-50 years of his life? … never set foot in a college … steroids and associated stuff make up a modern-day Fountain of Youth … I wonder how many of us could resist.
In a society that worships at the Altar of Youth — witness hair dye, anti-aging creams, testosterone supplements, gym memberships, face lifts — I get how tempting it must have been for A-Rod and the other athletes who took the stuff … the siren song of forever young is heard by many … and is very hard to resist, especially when one lives a life of such privilege and adulation as A-Rod … so I understand.
But not me … I am perfectly happy in my own skin, no matter what my age … I have to stop writing now; going to the store … now what did I do with that $2 coupon off the price of my favorite hair coloring?