With virtual meets possibly being included in certain teams’ schedule and social distancing measures being followed by all squads, the girls high school swimming scene will have a different look to it this fall.
That’s just fine with many of the swimmers and divers who are eager to start the season and experience some type of athletic competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our team has totally accepted the guidelines and scenarios the state has put out,” said North Haven coach Martha Phelan, who guided her squad to the Class M championship in 2019. “They are at practice laughing, talking and they are just taking each week as it comes and not trying to look too far ahead.”
Like the state’s other fall sports, swimming practice began in cohorts of 10 on Aug. 29 and will continue through Sept. 20. On Sept. 21, full-team workouts are allowed, with practice times extended from 60 to 90 minutes. Beginning Sept. 26, two hour practices are allowed and on Oct. 1, the regular season commences.
Unlike some other sports, the manner in which certain matchups are held could be different in high school swimming. Since the majority of schools don’t have their own pool and train at venues that may not allow interscholastic events, due to social distancing concerns, the CIAC is offering several options for teams to hold virtual meets.
“The main question coaches are asking is how a swim meet is going to look, how is it going to be run,” said Branford girls swimming coach Scott Butler, who is the CHSCA representative on the CIAC girls swim committee and girls swim chairperson. “Typically, we are a sport that follows USA swimming guidelines. Unfortunately, they have been tentative with coming up with protocols. As of two weeks ago, Connecticut Swimming has not come up with anything, so we had to come up with something ourselves.”
The final draft of the fall 2020 plan, which was prepared by CIAC girls swimming executive Joe Velardi and the swimming committee, emphasizes the significance of social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and face and following the guidelines presented by each school.
As of Friday, conferences such as the FCIAC and SCC had yet to receive their respective schedules and some teams were unsure whether they would hold in-person, or virtual meets.
The SWC’s swimming schedules were recently released and the conference plans on conducting traditional, in-person meets.
To limit schools’ travel each conference in the CIAC is divided into regions. The SWC North region includes Brookfield, Masuk, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown and Pomperaug. Bethel/Immaculate, Bunnell, Joel Barlow, Stratford and Weston will compete in the SWC South region.
“For our competition, we have a limit on the number of athletes each team is allowed to bring,” Weston coach Brandon Barone said. “I just want us to get through the whole season and not have any shutdowns. There hasn’t been a swim meet anywhere since the winter, so we want to offer the high school athletes something.”
Barone’s Weston squad, which claimed the 2019 Class S championship, will host its meets at Weston Middle School.
“I am OK with the amount of competitions we have on our schedule,” said Barone, who noted that spectators are not allowed at SWC meets, but the conference is planning on live streaming events.“We are following the protocols we received, along with those mixed in with each individual facility’s guidelines.”
In its plan, the CIAC notes virtual meets are an option for teams located geographically far from each other and for giving athletes a chance to compete against a greater variety of opponents.
The CIAC provided several options for virtual meets, one of which involves each team swimming at their home pool, with an official present at each pool. The coaches will score the meet.
Another virtual meet option calls for the home team conducting their events at approximately 3 p.m. The visiting school will travel to the home team’s pool and compete in their events beginning at approximately 6 p.m., so both squads get to test their skills in the same pool.
Another virtual option has the visiting team bringing their top swimmers, or seniors, to the home pool and competing against a similar group from the home team. The remainder of the athletes on the both teams will compete virtually.
The CCC, which is divided into four regions (A-D), has released schedules for its swim teams.
Greenwich coach Lorrie Hokayem, who guided the Cardinals to a second-place finish at the 2019 State Open and Class LL championships, hopes her team can host its opponents in traditional, in-person competition.
The Cardinals, who haven’t received their schedule, are in an FCIAC West region which includes Darien, New Canaan and Westhill/Stamford.
“It is hard to replicate the atmosphere of an in-person meet,” Hokayem said. “I hope the metrics remain safe enough to allow for head-to-head racing this fall using the CIAC guidelines. In-person meets create the most ideal competition conditions.”
Recommending that spectators should not be allowed at meets, the CIAC is also emphasizing communication among coaches and athletic directors. Coaches must discuss who is allowed in the bleachers, or pool deck space, where the building/pool entrances are located, which areas are designated for swimmers/divers to put their bags, locker room/restroom availability and how to submit meet entries.
The CIAC’s plan also suggests that athletes should come to the meet in their suit, underneath a sweat suit. When possible, students should leave the event wearing their swimsuit and sweat suit. Home teams should provide a changing area for visiting teams to change out of their wet swimsuits after the meet, and maintain 6-feet distance when the weather turns cold.
Timers and relay takeoff judges should wear facial coverings, along with coaches, managers, event personnel and swimmers who are not competing.
Teams must be kept on opposite sides of the pool and squads are required to swim in consecutive lanes — teams should not alternate lanes.
Cheshire coach Dave Modzelewski, whose Rams squad won the 2019 State Open, Class LL and SCC titles, noted there are plenty of factors involved in holding a virtual meet.
“No one knows how virtual meets are going to work,” Modzelewski said. “If we swim at our pool and they swim at their pool, there has to be an official at both, which spreads officials thin. Also different venues can hold different amount of people, so maybe larger teams have to limit how they can bring to meet.”
The Rams’ host their home meets at Cheshire Community Pool, which features 10 lanes.
“We have not gotten our schedule yet, so we are waiting for someone to tell us what we are allowed to do,” Modzelewski said. “Then we can start planning for it and make it work. Our goal before anything is released is to assume that everything is going to happen as it has in the past. If things change, we will adjust. I hope we have some way of comparing ourselves to last year.”
Butler’s Branford team is currently practicing at the Madison Racquet & Swim Club, along with Daniel Hand (they’re holding separate practices). The teams are training at the facilities’ heated outdoor pool, which can possibly be used to host meets.
“I do see some virtual meets being held,” Butler said. “It has been left up to the coaches to have those discussions. Each venue is different, so we have to make sure there is a lot of communication between coaches and athletic directors.”
New Canaan coach Kat Munson is holding practices for her team outdoors at New Canaan’s Waveny Swimming Pool, while the weather is warm. The Rams train and have their home meets at the New Canaan YMCA.
The New Canaan YMCA may not allow meets to be held, so her squad could be on the road should in-person meets take place.
“Nothing has specifically been communicated to the FCIAC yet,” Munson said. “If they are planning on having a couple of dual meets and no taper meet of any form I need to know that.”
Since the State Open and Class meets won’t be held, the CIAC said it will collaborate with league commissioners, athletic directors, and coaches to develop a postseason.
The CIAC noted that an option is to hold end of season competitions virtually by having students perform at their own pool. Leagues will determine the format for the region’s end of season meet.
“I would be more than happy to do a taper meet with the teams in our region,” Munson said. “They need to make a decision to allow coaches to come up with some sort of plan, since training and swimming involves a lot of planning.”
Marj Trifone, whose Darien team captured the Class 2019 L swimming championship, is also playing the waiting game.
“Waiting is the tough part, but at least there is something to train for and look forward to,” Trifone said. “I am hoping we can pull something off in terms of meets. The high school season is fun for them and the competition among themselves is wonderful to watch. It is going to take a little bit of work, but we’re hoping to get the green light for in-person meets.”
Trifone also coaches a summer club team in the Fairfield County Swim League, which held recently virtual meets.
“It was good for the younger kids and motivated them to do something competitive,” Trifone said. “But in high school swimming, the fun of it is swimming against your peers. It’s difficult for them to achieve their best times in virtual meet settings. It seems to me if both coaches agree their facilities are fine for having in-person meets then we’ll have them.”
Whatever the scenario, Phelan is focused on allow her team to get the most out of the season.
“I’m trying to make it a positive experience with what we are being dealt with,” Phelan said. “We’re packing in a good workout in that hour’s worth of practice time. This is the most normal gathering our team has had in a while, so they are appreciating the social experience.”