A successful coaching era has ended at Staples and Mike Anderson is planning on starting a new one with the Wreckers’ girls swimming team.
Mike Laux stepped down after guiding the girls swim program at Staples for 22 seasons and Anderson, a collegiate coach for numerous years, has taken over the squad.
Staples began its 2019 season Wednesday with a home meet against Danbury – it’s first meet without Laux heading the team in more than a decade. Laux, a Westport resident, will remain with the Wreckers in a volunteer capacity.
“Coach Laux was a very inspirational person,” said Staples senior tri-captain Esme Hunter, one of the Wreckers top tier swimmers. “He showed so much support to all of us and he inspired us to swim hard, while having a great time.”
In the highly-competitive FCIAC, Staples has become recognized as one of the premier teams in the conference, particularly the past decade. The Wreckers have also made their mark in the postseason state meets. They finished fifth at last season’s CIAC State Open and were third in both the Class LL and FCIAC Championship meets. In 2017, Staples was third in the State Open and Class LL and the 2016 season saw it finish sixth at the Open and third in LL. The 2015 and 2014 seasons were also memorable for the Wreckers, who placed third and second, respectively at the Class LL competition.
“Coaching the swim team at Staples was a building experience, a learning experience,” Laux said. “Seeing their success each season was a great thing to see. We had really good results over the years.”
Indeed, each day on the pool deck coaching the squad was enjoyable for Laux.
“From all my years of coaching, I learned that if you are having fun, then they will have fun and they will, as a result, improve,” Laux said. “One of the things I’m going to miss is the smiles on their faces and the satisfaction I got from seeing them improve.”
Said Hunter: “He is an overall great person who brought great energy to our team. He really helped me get to some places I don’t think I would be able to get to.”
Anderson arrives at Staples with more than four decades of coaching experience. He coached at the NCAA Division I level for more than 20 years at Alabama, the University of Hawaai and Nevada. While at Hawaii and Nevada, he served as head coach for each program, where he guided over a dozen Olympians and numerous conference championship squads. Recently, Anderson has also been successful coaching at the high school club level.
“Mike Anderson has coached at a lot of Division I schools, so he’s brought some new, exciting training techniques to our practices,” Hunter said. “We also have two new, great female assistant coaches — Elanie Rankowitz and Briana Zappulla. Everyone is really excited about the season.”
The offseason was a difficult one for the Staples program as Dan Long, who guided the divers for numerous years, died last spring.
Hunter produced an outstanding season while competing in the 200-yard individual medley in 2018. She placed second in the 200 IM at the Class LL finals in 2:05.18 and was sixth in the event at the State Open. At the 2018 State Open, Hunter posted a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke in 56.59 seconds and was first in the event at the Class LL finals (56.28).
“It will depend on certain meets what events I will be swimming, but I’m figuring the 100 backstroke and 2 IM for championship meets,” Hunter said. “I love the 100 backstroke and 2 IM, but I also love competing in the 50 freestyle. It’s a great opportunity to swim fast laps.”
Also captaining the team are seniors Anne Bowens and Morgan Lenoce.
Lenoce posted a top-15 finish at the State Open in the 100-yard freestyle last season (53.67) and was ninth in the event at the Class LL competition. In the 200 freestyle at last season’s Class LL finals, Lenoce finished seventh (1:55.96). Lenoce should also see action in the 100 backstroke this fall.
Bowens is coming off a junior season in which she placed sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke (Class LL finals, 1:08.08). Hunter and Bowens were part of the Wreckers’ 200 medley relay team (along with 2018 senior standouts Marissa Healy and Olivia Utter) that captured the first-place medal at the Class LL meet (1:46.91) and were third at the State Open (1:46.94).
Among some of the returning athletes from last season’s squad are sophomore Jessica Qi (sprinter, 100/200 freestyle), sophomore Ella Alpert (backstroke, butterfly) and junior Sophia Mechanic (sprint freestyle/relays).
“Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to some of our top swimmers, who graduated last year, but our new coach has pushed us to be our best and I think we will fight to be one of the top teams,” Hunter said.
Following its meet against Danbury on Wednesday, Staples will visit Fairfield Ludlowe on Sept. 23 and Trumbull on Sept. 27.
“As captains, we expect the girls to do their best and we hope they can come to practice and show up at our meets with a positive attitude and train as hard as they can,” Hunter said. “We are hoping to finish top five in all our championship meets.”
Hunter plans on continuing her swimming career at the collegiate level after graduating from Staples.
“Swimming has been a huge part of my life for so long,” Hunter said. “ Being a part of the program here at Staples has taught me so many things about hard work and leadership and having a family outside of a family.”