MADISON >> Like many freshmen girls swimmers, Westbrook’s Caitlin McNary was a little nervous and apprehensive competing in the CIAC Class S meet and State Open for the first time last season.
Since Westbrook has no swim team, she also had the unique task of competing last season as a team of three with her sister Coral McNary, a senior at the time, and Mira Stewiart, a junior. It also became a little disconcerting heading into those state swim meets without the same level of support at Westbrook other high-profile sports received heading into their postseasons.
As it turned out, the combination of hard work, her fierce competitiveness and the combined support of her family and the Hand girls swim team paid off. Caitlin McNary pulled off an impressive feat and won the 100 freestyle (52.46 seconds) and the 200 freestyle (1:54.30) in the Class S meet. She was second in the 200 freestyle (1:53.33) and fourth in the 100 freestyle (52.61) at the State Open.
Caitlin McNary was a Register All-Area selection for her effort. Her sister Coral, now swimming for New York University, was also selected All-Area for her third place finish in the 100 backstroke and fifth place finish in the 200 individual medley at the State Open.
Since Westbrook didn’t have a swim team, the Westbrook girls were allowed to attach themselves to the Hand swim team where they could train and compete in dual meets. Training with Hand made sense since head coach Jen Lyman coaches the McNarys at the Nutmeg Swim Club based in Westbrook.
“After the Class meet, I was extremely happy on how I did in both my performances,” Caitlin McNary said. “Going into the State Open I had more confidence and felt more relaxed. The State Open last year was just supposed to be an ‘experience meet’ where I could get a feel for what it was like swimming against all the classes without any expectations.
“I was shocked when I placied top five in both of my events at the State Open, considering it was my first time ever at the Yale short-course pool and swimming against girls I never competed against. I was proud of myself for what I did, and when I saw the scoreboard I knew all my hard work had finally paid off.”
Caitlin McNary believes her strength as a swimmer is her strong work ethic, pushing herself as hard as she can in every practice. Lyman agreed but also believes she has another key quality – mental toughness.
“As a freshman, going into the postseason there is some anxiety there, and Caitlin had some anxiety,” Lyman said. “But she is the type of person who can push herself through that anxiety and focuses on the task at hand. Now that she has gone through that postseason experience, she has more confidence as a sophomore.”
Caitlin also credits her support group for her success last season. Georgia, her mom, and David, her dad along with her grandfather Henry Smith were her biggest supporters. But her sister Coral, her best friend and swimming mentor, made her transition to high school a smooth one.
“My success last season had a lot to do with how hard I pushed myself at practice, but it also had a lot to do with the positive people I had around me,” Caitlin McNary said. “I met a lot of new girls on the Hand swim team that always encouraged me to try my best and never give up. I also had my older sister, Coral, who was an excellent training partner because the events, like butterfly and breastroke, where I lack speed, she thrives in. She pushed me to keep up with her in those specific events.
“Jen Lyman also introduced me to a new way of thinking about swimming and a new coach, Cristina Forristall, always had a bright smile to make you want to practice everyday. Finally, I had my family who always believed in me and was happy whether I did an amazing job or bombed an event all throughout the season.”
While few people at Westbrook High knew Caitlin was competing in the postseason, she said they came eventually around.
“Being on a three-person team was definitely difficult considering not many people new about the swim team at first (at Westbrook),” Caitlin said. “They were more focused on field hockey, basketball and soccer since those are our main sports at Westbrook.
“But after having our meets announced on the intercoms though, and people in school learning how we did at those meets, the word slowly got around that we had a team. After Class S and the State Open when Coral and I did very well, many people soon took notice in our small but powerful team. Even teachers at our school were soon congratulating both on us on our success.”
Caitlin McNary is looking forward to this season with her freshman experience behind her.
“My excitement for the season is unbelievable,” Caitlin said. “Swimming last year with Coral was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It will be difficult not being able to train with her. But I have a lot of confidence and positivity going into this season.”
Caitlin, a team of one because Stewiart decided not to swim this season, is also looking forward to next season when her younger sister Marissa will be a freshman at Westbrook and will also swim. Caitlin is looking forward to giving her the same support Coral gave her last season.