Despite substantial losses, Warriors aiming high again in 2013-14
At left: Michelle Schapp
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Many of the faces which propelled the Eastern Connecticut State University women's swim team to its highest New England finish ever last year have changed, but the goals remain the same as the Warriors approach their 18th intercollegiate season Saturday at the Saint Joseph (CT) Pentathlon.
Last year, Eastern capped an impressive season with its highest finish ever (second) at the New England Intercollegiate Swimming and Diving Association (NEISDA) Championships, where 11 individuals combined to earn All-New England honors 42 times.
For the second straight regular season, the Warriors won eight of nine dual meets and matched their highest finish ever (second) at the Little East Conference Championships in early December.
The individual losses from last season were extensive and include 13 of last year's 21 letterwinners who had combined to contribute 18 of those 42 All-New England medals.
At right: Erin McVeigh
However, the cupboard is not bare for 18th-year head coach Maureen Fahey (127-71-2 record) and long-time assistants Amy Golas and Bill Hassell. A strong nucleus of ten individuals - nine of them letterwinners -- returns and includes senior fourth-year participants Michelle Schapp (Torrington) and Erin McVeigh (Windsor), as well as junior Kayla Smoragiewicz (Norwalk) and sophomores Katie King (Barkhamsted) and Macaire Jones (Danbury).
That quintet will be supported by five additional returnees: senior Vic San Pietro (Stratford), juniors Abby Arisco (Wallingford), Shannon Coleman (Plantsville) and Katie Dulz (Windsor), and sophomore Sarah Froehlich (Woodstock).
Dedication of part-time coaches makes program special
By Brent Pelella / Sports Information Staff
Maureen Fahey (at left) didn't know that when she took the opportunity to start the Eastern swim team in 1996 that she would be walking into a life-changing relationship. Not as just a coach, but as a teacher, friend and mentor to so many student athletes.
Fahey left the incalescent climate of the University of Tampa, where she was a reigning All-America, to come back to her home state of Connecticut at Connecticut College. Four years later she began a program that presented her with two people - her current long-time assistant coaches - who have had such an impact here they still haven't left.
Amy Golas came to Eastern as a swimmer in 1999 and graduated as one of the most celebrated performers in the program's 18-history, "Amy was the best swimmer to go through here, and hopefully a future (Eastern) Hall of Famer," Fahey remarked. "Having her go through that experience, and then wanting to be an assistant afterwards meant the world to me."
At left: Assistant coaches Amy Golas and Bill Hassell.
Their bond has developed over the last ten years along with a resilient notion of trust and companionship. Their third wheel comes in the form of ninth-year head coach Bill Hassell, who graduated from UConn where he was remarkable in his own right. As a former New England champion, "CB" (Coach Bill) brings decades of education as a classroom instructor and swimming expert.
As a staff, these three storied athletes run the pool as one, "We all carry the same amount of responsibility," Golas said. "We trust Maureen's leadership, but she also gives us the utmost freedom to express how we feel."
Incredibly, each member of the coaching staff is employed on only a part-time basis at Eastern. While Hassell has retired from his fulltime duties as a teach and coach, Fahey works fulltime in the private sector in Hartford, and Golas is a fulltime middle school english teacher in Hebron.
With much respect to Fahey, it's hard to consider her the sole head coach and she attests to that as well, "Amy and Bill are just as much head coaches as I am... I just get the blame when negative situations happen," she joked.
The dedication they portray to get their unit ready for the season is uncanny. Their preparation requires different aspects to be covered by each individual. Hassell generally covers morning workouts, where as practice the other two usually devises practice plans.
As a result, their teams have escalated their level of devotion and expectations to an elite platform, "To be a part of this program, teaching Coach Fahey's philosophies is a dream come true," remarked Golas. "Every year our team gets better and its so satisfying to see the records on the wall being broken year in and year out."
The dedication of the staff is not lost on the program's current or former swimmers, however.
"All three of the coaches are very commited to us," says current junior Kayla Smoragiewicz. "They're all very dedicated and they all want the best for us. They get super excited when they see us beat our times. They develop such a close connection with us throughout the years, and that's why they love it when they see us coming back every year," she added. "Coach Fahey makes it clear to us from the beginning that she wants to be someone that we can go to, not only for swimming, but for school and in our personal lives. She has a busy schedule, but she still dedicates all of her time to us and makes herself available, which all of us are very grateful for."
"We've gotten a lot closer as a team (recently)," noted Smoragiewicz as she surveys a 2013-14 roster which is devoid of many of last year's marquee names. "We feel like we're going to have a great season. We've been working really hard, and we're excited for (the season-opener).
In addition to swimming to All-New England honors a total of seven times last year, Schapp holds all three backstroke records, is a member of all five record-setting relays and shared last year's award as Eastern's Individual Sport Athlete-of-the-Year; McVeigh was a six-time All-New England performer in the freestyle and relays last winter, and Smoragiewicz achieved All-New England status as a sophomore five times in the backstroke and relays.
King attained All-New England distinction five times as a freshman in the breaststroke, individual medley and relays, set two breaststroke records, won the 100 breaststroke at the conference meet and was selected Eastern's Individual Sport Rookie-of-the-Year; and Jones gained All-New England status with the 400 medley relay, and posted the fastest time last year in the 50 free, the second-best mark in the 100 freestyle, and third-best time in the 200 freestyle.
In addition to the returnees, the roster will be bolstered by two transfers among the eight newcomers: junior Shannen Barnard (Niantic) and sophomore Rebecca Stewart (Niantic). Barnard swam two seasons on conference championship teams at Division II Southern Connecticut State University and Stewart spent last year at Keene State College, where she helped the Owls to the Little East and NEISDA championships. Both transfers swim the individual medley. Barnard will also contribute in the breaststroke and Stewart in the distance freestyle.
"The girls that we lost were very good, but we're fortunate for the new girls that we got," said Smoragiewicz. "They all do really well in numerous events and seem to fit in really well. They have been working really hard in practice," she adds. "They're definitely going to be an important addition to the team."
Among the newcomers this season are four true freshmen of whom Smoragiewicz and her teammates are expecting great things.
"All of the freshmen have come in with swimming experience and all of them will contribute in some aspect and will win points for the team," she says.
In all, the Warriors return their top two swimmers from a year ago in the 50 freestyle and 50 backstroke, three of their top four in the 100 and 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly, five of their best six in the 50 butterfly, the top four and five of the top six in the 100 butterfly, and four of their most accomplished six in last year's 100 individual medley.
This year's seniors have experienced only four dual-meet losses in three years: three to Keene State and one to Bridgewater State University.
Without Keene on the regular-season schedule for the first time in 17 seasons, Eastern has set an undefeated season an attainable - albeit difficult - goal, along with a fifth consecutive Top 5 finish in the NEISDA meet in mid-February.
"As a team, we'll be trying for an undefeated (dual meet) season, so we'll see how that goes," states Smoragiewicz. "It's definitely going to be difficult with a (20 percent) smaller roster than last year, but we still think that we can do it. We'll also be trying to place as high as we can in the New England meet. Last year, we did a really great job with that, and we're trying to do just as well this year."
At last year's Saint Joseph Pentathlon title, McVeigh, King and Jones placed 1-2-3 in the competition, where Eastern swimmers captured eight of the top ten spots. Two weeks after the opener, Eastern hosts Western Connecticut State University in the first of only three home dual meets. The conference championships are slated for December 7 at UMass Dartmouth, and the NEISDA Championships - hosted by the University of Rhode Island Feb. 14-16, close out the season.