TORRINGTON >> Some season-ending team banquets are more emotional than others.
Always, senior team members face their final moments with the team; often, tight bonds provide their own emotions.
Torrington High School’s girls swimming team, celebrating another great season at the Cornucopia Banquet Facility Sunday night, had more reason that most for the emotions.
Almost half the team graduates this June as 12 girls move on to the next phase of their lives, many still swimming.
For some, competitive swimming has been the biggest outside influence on their lives so far.
“I found out more about myself in three months than I ever did before,” said Nicole Jamieson, who waited until her final high school year to undergo the rigors, the bonding and the satisfaction that most of the other girls reported in longer swimming careers.
“I’ve been talking about it since my freshman year; I finally decided to go for it,” said Sara Heath, another senior first-year swimmer.
Heath made progress by leaps and bounds through the season.
“My coaches always knew there was a little more in me,” she said.
That’s one of the basic lessons for a sport that only rewards hard, grueling work, often involving major sacrifices.
“I want to thank all you parents for dropping off your kids at 5:30 a.m. and on Saturdays,” smiled head coach Katie Gregory, whose work, alongside assistant coach Jessica Hurd and diving coach Mike Michaud guided the team to a 6-3 NVL record (7-4 overall) and second place at the NVL Championships.
Sometimes, despite the hard work, the sport forces a new look at reality and how to deal with it.
“I realized I’d never be the best, but I wanted to be part of this group,” said Sarah Todd, who stayed with it, becoming one of the team’s four senior captains.
“I swam in lane one and didn’t go anywhere, so I switched to diving,” said Angela Clark, who led two other divers, freshman Mariah Herczeg and senior Elisabeth Vasquez to fifth, sixth and seventh places at the NVL Championships, helping their team climb into the runner-up spot.
“I started off swimming and discovered, ‘I’m not good at swimming,'” laughed Vasquez.
The hard work, the harsh discoveries and the camaraderie pay off.
“Everyone is as happy for someone who drops time as they wouild be for doing it themselves,” said senior captain Chloe Vollaro.
“I’m going to join club swimming in college. I’m hoping I’ll find another group like you,” said senior captain Devon Donovan.
“The pool becomes your home away from home,” said Jamieson.
Top performances bring top prizes: sisters Makenzie Welch (200-yard individual medley, 100-yard backstroke) and Payton Welch (200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly) swam their way to All-NVL status in their best strokes.
Makenzie, a senior captain who holds school records in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, is All-State in the backstroke, thanks to a second-place finish in the Class M State Meet.
Still, everyone contributes. Coach Gregory was proud that 16 of the 23 Red Raiders who swam at the NVL Trials moved on to score points in the Finals.
“It shows our depth,” Gregory said.
As usual, the team showed its fun side when it was time for celebration.
Sunday, the captains, Welch, Villaro, Todd and Hailey Ross, handed out a string of awards ranging from best newcomer to ‘most likely to give the coaches a heart attack,’ nodding to the coaches long enough to bestow ‘worst driving,’ ‘most forgetful’ and ‘best hat’ honors.
Coach Gregory finished with a commercial for next year: “Go find a friend, whether they know how to swim or not,” she implored the underclassmen.
They’ll be led by new captains Payton Welch and Emily Mazzarelli, both juniors.