Like most best friends, Rylie Giles and Hannah Seward share a lot in common.
The Ridgefield High School seniors are teammates on the Tigers’ girls swimming team and also test their skills together for Ridgefield Aquatic Club. They both excelled for the Tigers at high school championship meets in season’s past and they are among the team’s captains this fall.
But that’s not all.
After their high school days at Ridgefield conclude, Seward and Giles will both continue their swimming careers at the collegiate level.
Giles, who specializes in the distance events, will compete for Bucknell’s Division I swim program. Seward (100 butterfly, 100 freestyle, 50 freestyle) is headed to Northeastern, also a Division I competitor.
“Bucknell is a great academic school with a strong athletic program and I knew I could see myself there,” said Giles, who is in her fourth season on Ridgefield High’s swim squad. “This past year, their distance swimmers dropped 10 seconds, because of a different training style they use, which might help me drop time in the future.”
Seward hopes to help Northeastern continue its winning tradition in the Colonial Athletic Association. Behind 28-year coach Roy Coates, the Huskies have finished above .500 in 14 consecutive seasons.
“Though the team isn’t the fastest in their division, they are improving and I am really excited to help build a program,” Seward said. “They are really fast and I am looking forward to the challenge of competing at the collegiate level.”
Seward’s junior season for the Tigers, was indeed, one to remember. She won the 100-yard butterfly title at the 2019 CIAC Class LL and State Open Championships (55.14, 55.30) and placed third in the 100-yard freestyle at the State Open with a time of 52.86, an event that also saw her place second in Class LL (51.86).
An All-FCIAC, all-state team performer, Seward swam at Greenwich High School as a freshman and sophomore, before moving to Ridgefield last year. As a sophomore with the Cardinals’ State Open and Class LL title-winning team, she finished fourth in the 100 butterfly and eighth in the 50 freestyle at the State Open, while placing third and fourth, respectively, in the races at the LL competition.
Seward joined the Ridgefield Aquatic Club team as a second-grader and over the years has appreciated how significant the sport has been in her life.
“I’ve made so many friendships,” she said. “I’ve made my best friends ever from swimming and I’ve met great coaches, who have inspired me so much.”
Competitive swimmers know the commitment that’s required to perform at a high level and though the hours of daily training are grueling, the work put in is rewarding.
“Sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship that I have with swimming, but during quarantine I learned that I can’t live without it, I missed it so much,” Seward said, regarding the COVID-19 restrictions put in place during the spring and early summer that called for pools to be closed. “Since swimming is so much work and so time consuming, I’ve also used it to provide time management for other aspects of my life.”
While swimming and most other sports were on pause for several months due to COVID-19 guidelines, Seward was faced with adversity.
She broke her right elbow while doing a gymnastics move — a back hand spring — in May.
“I tore a ligament in it, so I had to get surgery and I couldn’t swim for four months,” Seward said. “I was worried, but by August, I was completely fine. I just went right back to swimming, which was actually good rehab for my elbow.”
Seward, who lists math and science as her favorite subjects, has enjoyed competing with Giles and her Tigers teammates.
“She is my best friend, a top competitor in the state and we motivate each other in practice,” Seward said. “It’s great to have people like her to swim with in practice, she’s amazing.”
Paul Marchese, who is in his first season as Ridgefield High’s girls swimming coach, sees Seward’s competitive fire each day at the pool.
“She is a hard worker and she is determined to help her teammates get better,” Marchese said. “When she comes to the pool her energy is so high.”
Giles’ 2019 season included second-place finishes in the 200 and 500-yard freestyle races at the State Open (1:53.40, 5:02.34). She was also the runner-up in Class LL in the 200 freestyle (1:53.15) and 500 (4:58.80) and won the FCIAC title in the 100 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
“I started swimming in third grade, moved to Ridgefield my freshman year and that’s when I began getting extremely competitive,” Giles said. “My favorite part of swimming is the finish. Touching the wall after a good race and getting a best time, gives you a great feeling of accomplishment, because you did it yourself.”
Giles, Seward, Ella Kagan and Stephanie Zacharakos are the Tigers’ captains.
“It’s been so great to be a part of this team, our team atmosphere is so fun,” Giles said. “It makes you go faster and it feels good to be a part of such an awesome community.”
Like all teams, Ridgefield’s 2020 swim schedule is modified. They have two meets against Wilton and Staples and meet Danbury and Norwalk/McMahon once. What’s in store for the postseason remains to be seen, though it is known that the State Open and class meets will not be held.
“For our team, our goal is to have an undefeated season,” Giles said. “Even though there will be no FCIACs, we are working hard in practice and we are trying to go all out during our dual meets.”
Marchese notices the effort Giles puts into each swim.
“She is a great distance swimmer,” Marchese said. “She’s like the energizer bunny — she outworks the people next to her. Rylie has positive energy around her that is contagious.”
The distance events have always been a source of enjoyment for Giles.
“I’m definitely a distance swimmer, my favorite is the 500 freestyle,” she said. “I also like the mile, but during the high school season, the 500 freestyle will have to do. When I’m racing in the 500 freestyle it gives me more time to think about the race and it gives me more time to think about my speed. I’ve always been a distance swimmer.”
Giles is eager to showcase her skills at Bucknell next year.
“Bucknell has a really solid swim program, the women’s team placed second in their division, which was a big accomplishment,” said Giles, who plans on majoring in business. “Their new distance training is to have the distance swimmers do sprints with the sprinters, which is very different and I’m looking forward to it.”
Though new to the program, Marchese has witnessed Giles and Seward’s presence on the team.
“They are having an impact on myself as a coach, which is great, it shows me how to be a leader,” Marchese said. “I have been with them for only two months, but they’ve had a great impact.”