Title defense begins now
Girls swimming adds 13 new faces to the fold
A banner year may be an understatement when it comes to describing the success Darien's 2009 girls swimming team experienced. Not only did the Blue Wave claim its ninth Class M state title in 10 years, but Darien dethroned mighty Greenwich to grab the FCIAC title for the first time in 35 years.
With the FCIAC bulls-eye supplanted from Greenwich's to Darien's back, outside expectations are higher than normal for the Blue Wave. However, those lofty goals many in the swimming community think Darien can attain may be a bit high for a squad that graduated nearly half -- 12 seniors -- of last year's dual title squad.
"We all feel the pressure," head coach Marj Trifone said. "I just really want to concentrate on keeping the traditions that we have, and concentrate on how to be a team -- be a team player."
Trifone's focus on tradition comes from the fact she must break in 13 incoming freshmen, all of whom have never competed in the team-oriented style of high school swimming.
"Tradition takes care of itself. The work ethic, tradition, the team camaraderie here is very special. In order to be part of a special group, you work hard here," Trifone said. "In high school swimming you work for each other. For the first time in swimming (the freshmen) are working for each other."
Darien lost the likes of Katie Orem (200 IM, 100 backstroke), Sam Berizzi (200, 500 freestyles), Katie Rohn (100 backstroke, 200 freestyle), Andrea Smelser (200 IM, 100 butterfly), Cali Ceglarski (50, 100 freestyles), Paige Gasparino (200, 500 freestyles) and Alex Leinroth, one of the state's top divers.
"It's hard to replace so much depth, so much freestyle, with 13 incoming freshmen. You just can't do that in one season," Trifone said. "It's good to have a huge group to come in and fill spots to work toward that in their senior year."
Trifone understands the pressure of expectations placed on the program from outsiders does not rest on the freshmen, but on the her, the coach.
"The expectation is more on me that on them that we can get something out of these brand new freshmen," she said.
"I just want them to be very supportive of their teammates," Trifone said of her captains. "You really can't tell your peers what to do. You have to show them by example. If they do that, the rest will follow."
The Blue Wave will also get a lift from returning juniors Caroline Kearney, Rebecca Liu, Caitlin Shea, Cammie Kirby and Chapin Tricarico and sophomores Olivia Leunis and Caroline Orem. The vacancies left by the graduated seniors not only opened spots in dual-meet events, but have opened the door for placement in championship heats such as FCIACs, states and the State Open -- a motivating factor for some.
"Since all these seniors are gone, all these sophomores and juniors notice they can get slots in the championship meets this year," Tyler said.
Darien will feel the impact of its losses most in its freestyle relays. The Blue Wave graduated all four members of the 400-free team (Ceglarski, Rohn, Berizzi and Katie Orem) and half of its 200-free team (Berizzi and Ceglarski). Tyler and Treesh are hold overs from the 200-free squad.
Katie Orem spearheaded Class M's top 200-medley relay team, which returns Liu, Kirby and Treesh.
Although Darien said goodbye to the Class M diving champ, Leinroth, the Blue Wave are left with a strong stable of divers ready to challenge the state's best. Alexandra Ashcraft, a senior, leads a group of accomplished divers that include her sister Caroline Ashcraft and Baker.
"We're still going to end up being very strong in diving this year -- one of the stronger FCIAC teams in diving," Trifone said.
Darien, 8-1 in dual meets in 2009, opens the season at Fairfield Warde on Wednesday. The schedule breaks well for a team with so much youth, as Darien hosts both rivals New Canaan (Oct. 1) and Greenwich (Oct. 8) at the Darien YMCA.
"We still have to focus on our smaller meets. We can't give away events this years," Tyler said.
Along with the challenges the FCIAC poses, Darien will face the challenge of competing in Class L with the likes of perennial power Pomperaug.
"We really expect a great season and we have such a great group of girls," Sanborn said.