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Swimming

Stock photo
Daniel Dunaief

We think we know our kids, but really the converse is true.

My son recently told me that he thinks I’m angry every time I swim laps in a pool. At first, I dismissed the observation because swimming brings me peace.

And then I thought about my junior year of high school, when I joined my one and only swim team.

I loved the water, I had a few friends on the team and I was determined to do something different when each day in school felt like a bad version of “Groundhog Day,” long before the Bill Murray film arrived in theaters.

I had several shortcomings. For starters, I didn’t know how to do a flip turn. To the experienced swimmer, that’s as laughable as asking a NASCAR driver how to change gears or a baseball player which end of the bat to hold. It’s a basic skill. I’d approach the wall, gasping for air, roll to my right and kick hard.

Most of the time, I’d slam my foot into the lane marker and, on occasion would kick the poor swimmer in lane 5. I swam in lane 6, which was where swimmers who needed life jackets trained. The best swimmers occupied lane 1. They never seemed to need a breath, had hydrodynamic bodies that made them look like torpedoes and seemed slightly bored after an exhausting practice.

Oh, and they also wore Speedo bathing suits well. For someone accustomed to the boxing trunk bathing suits that I still wear today, Speedos seemed way too small. Besides, I’m not sure the small, colorful lightweight suits allowed me to shave even a tenth of a second off my barge-floating-downstream speed.

Each practice, the coach would tell us to swim 20 laps back and forth as a warm-up. By the end of the warm-up, which I never finished, we started practice. At that point, I was leaning hard on the wall, wondering whether I should climb out of the pool and grab some French fries.

When we dove off the blocks at the start of the race, I must have entered the water at the wrong angle. My goggles scraped down my nose and landed in front of my mouth, which made it impossible to see or breathe. Flopping blindly, I’d zigzag in slow motion across the pool.

Each practice completely drained me. My exhausted arms pulled through the water, splashing where others were gliding. My legs slapped at the water, instead of serving as propellers. And yet, something about the incredible energy required to survive each practice helped me, both mentally and physically.

I’m sure I lost weight. After all, such inefficient swimming burns off considerably more calories than floating effortlessly hither and yon. More importantly, though, I worked out everything that bothered me in my head as I listened to the gurgling noises my mouth made while I wiggled back and forth. Each lap, I replayed conversations that went awry, standardized tests that were like electroshock therapy and the missed social opportunities.

Gnashing my teeth, I worked out frustrations that built up during the day or the week. The herculean effort either removed toxins or prevented them from cluttering my brain. Sitting in my room at home after practice, I felt more at peace than I had at any point during the day.

But what my son must have perceived as I do laps today are the habits I formed during that winter season. My body instantly remembers how to use swimming to release tension. He may see the residual physical manifestations of the cauldron of emotions that I carried back and forth across that icy pool. And, hey, maybe I’d look like a happier swimmer if I ever learned how to do a flip turn.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

Kyra Sommerstad, 17, lives for the water and the thrill of shaving seconds off her best swim times. Though she has been swimming competitively since she was 10, for nearly five years, her major goal was to make it to the Olympic trials. 

Kyra Sommerstad will be attending the Olympic trials in June 2020. Photo from PJSD

This year, during a meet at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, she was wide eyed when she reviewed her time for the 100-yard backstroke. Her time, 1:02.66, just under the qualifying time by .03 seconds.

“I hoped I would make the qualifying time any time this summer, but I really wasn’t expecting it at this event,” Sommerstad said. “When I looked up and saw my time, I didn’t really realize at first, so I had to do a double take to make sure the time was right, and I just got really emotional.”

Sommerstad’s dad, Ray, said at the time he and the rest of the audience weren’t especially looking at the times, instead focused on the intense back and forth between his daughter and another swimmer during the second backstroke leg, where each was neck and neck. Once she finally got out of the pool, only then did eyes turn up to her final times. 

“She goes to practice eight times a week, six days, some days she goes twice,” her father said. “She’s a hard worker — she shows up every day with a smile. Her positive enthusiasm is contagious.”

The Port Jefferson swimmer started in the pool when she was just under 10 years old, as part of what her dad described as every parent’s quest to find an activity for their kid that
would stick.

This one stuck. She took to the water like a fish, her parents said, and would improve in skill year after year after year. When she was 13, she set a goal for herself that she would make it to the Olympic trials, and she dedicated herself to that bar ever since.

While she represents the Port Jefferson high school in school swimming, for years, the Port Jeff swimmer has been practicing with the Three Village Swim Club. Her coach for the past three years, Mark Anderson, said she is as close to the perfect student as one can get. In his years of coaching, Sommerstad is the first he’s taught to qualify for the Olympic trials.

“She’s really a coach’s dream athlete — she makes corrections really well and she does what she’s told to do, and that’s really rare in a lot of people,” he said. “She’s finally starting to achieve every goal she’s set in front
of her.” 

When she made it her intention to make it to the Olympic qualifiers, she, her coach and her parents would look at the times expected to qualify increase from 1:03.99 in 2012 to 1:03.39 in 2016. For 2020, the time jumped by close to a full second.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

And in swimming, when shaving off decimals of a second in a swim time is considered solid work for months of effort, the task looked daunting.

“I’m happy if a swimmer takes off half a second in months trying to get better,” the coach said. “She made it by .03 … It’s a sport of hundreds of seconds, and it puts a lot of things in their lives in perspective.”

As well as being a Scholastic All-American recipient, Sommerstad currently is maintaining a 95 percent average in school and is already committed to The Ohio State University where she plans to compete in swimming. While she hasn’t settled on a specific major yet, she said she was looking into working with children, either in teaching or in occupational therapy.

Those who have seen her train know she puts the same amount of effort into training for swim meets as she does the other important aspects of her life.

“[Her academics] do not suffer at all for all the time she spends in the pool,” her father said. “It actually gives her discipline to make sure she manages her time effectively.”

Though she is heading to the Olympic trials, she, her family and her coach are trying to keep their expectations realistic, as she will be competing against the best swimmers from all across the nation. Despite this, Sommerstad, who is traveling from state to state competing in swim meets, expects her training to ramp up hard as they head to the Olympic trials June 22, 2020.

“I’m definitely going to be working a lot harder this year — doing some extra stuff out of the pool to maybe gain some muscle so I can swim faster,” she said. “I’m hoping to swim a best time at Olympic trials, so I can be seated higher among all the people who have made it.”

LI and tristate distance swimmers participate in one of world’s longest swim challenges

SHU Swim teammates Victoria Catizone, Nikole Rudis, Julia Pusateri and Shanna Haddow pose for a picture after finishing the grueling 15.5 mile trek. Photo from SWIM organization

Just over 30 years ago, in 1987, three swimmers and two boats launched from Port Jefferson. For more than 15 miles they dragged themselves across the dark blue-green waters of the Long Island Sound, finally making it to Bridgeport, all for the sake of those battling cancer. 

Swimmers take off from Port Jefferson to Bridgeport. Photo from SWIM organization Facebook

This year, just over 100 swimmers sank into the cold waters of the Sound early morning Aug. 3, and in three groups took off on the 15.5-mile trek across the Sound with around 64 support boats and 20 law enforcement vessels staying in pace beside them all the way across to Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

The event is part of Bridgeport-based St. Vincent’s SWIM Across the Sound Marathon, helping to support thousands of people in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area battling cancer. While in 1987 the swimmers raised approximately $5,000 for cancer charity, this has jumped to an average of $250,000 to $300,000 annually in modern times. So far, the foundation is halfway to its final goal of $300,000, while the SWIM program raises around $2 million a year through all their various events.

The money goes to the assistance of people suffering from cancer in the Connecticut area for financial assistance for things beyond what insurance provides, such as mortgage and tax bills. They also help provide mammograms and ultrasounds for uninsured women.

“The goal of the swim is to help patients get through the diagnosis and the cancer, a lot of them aren’t working,” said Lyn Fine-McCarthy, the executive director of St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. “There is about 30,000 individuals every year that we help, these are patients who are going through cancer treatments, out of work, and sometimes are single moms, and just need a lot of financial assistance.”

Fine-McCarthy added they are grateful to Danfords Hotel & Marina for being the staging ground and home base for the event for years going on.

SHU Swim teammates Victoria Catizone, Nikole Rudis, Julia Pusateri and Shanna Haddow pose for a picture. Photo from SWIM organization

Each relay team is asked to raise a minimum of $7,500, while two-person teams must raise $3,500 and solo swimmers a minimum of $1,500.

While a majority of the swimmers were from Connecticut, a good portion came from the tristate area and from as far away as Tennessee and Florida. Two native Long Island swimmers and exercise science majors at Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University, Victoria Catizone, of Sayville, and Shanna Haddow, of Northport, participated in a team where they have already raised just over $3,000 for the event with a goal of reaching $7,500.

Haddow said this was the first time she and her three teammates have participated in the marathon, with her finishing in a time of 7 hours, 17 minutes.

“We had never done it before,” she said. “We knew what to expect, but not really what to expect. We were taking it swim by swim, and we knew we had a long day ahead of us.”

Haddow, has been swimming since she was 6 years old. She now swims distance for her college team, and said they trained year-round with two practices a day during the school semester and swimming all summer every day up until the start of the race.

Catizone, team captain, has been swimming for nine years, adding it wasn’t just their first time with the marathon, but collectively their first time in open water with the threat of the current, rising waves and poor visibility.

“You definitely start to feel it in your shoulders,” she said. “Once we got to mile 5 it got to be a little mentally grueling, but you just think about the reason why you’re doing it, and the people who you’re doing it for, and it helps you push through.”

Haddow said stepping into open water was at times a shock, sometimes literally as they approached the middle of the Sound where the temperature grew cold, and they swam on without wet suits. 

swimmers meet their boat professionals in front of Danfords Hotel & Marina. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Once we swam into Captain’s Cove, spirits were high again, and once we came in sight of the harbor, we kicked it into gear and all four of us were sprinting to make it to the finish,” she said, adding she was the last one to swim the last leg to the finish line. “Because you swam all day through 15.5 miles, just getting there and hearing your name being called, participating with such a great foundation, it was just the best feeling.”

Both the team and individual swimmers struggled the distance for people in their lives who have or are currently battling cancer. Catizone swam in honor of her grandparents and a friend who is a two-time cancer survivor. Haddow swam in honor of her grandfather, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. As a team, they swam in memory of a SHU alumni family member who passed last year from cancer.

“Once it got really tough, I told myself, ‘Keep swimming,’ because it was not for me, it was for somebody else,” Haddow said.

Ward Melville's relay team comes in first place in 200 medley

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser pushes his way through the 100-yard breaststroke. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Junior Jason Louser has a reason to love his home pool a little more these days. The Shoreham-Wading River swimmer took home two first-place finishes in the state championships at Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow March 3. Louser was one of three two-time individual state champions, earning co-most outstanding swimmer award honors and All-American nods in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser (black trunks) start the 200-yard individual medley just ahead of Ward Melville’s David He (in front on left). Photo by Bill Landon

“He has so much potential, and what we’ve seen today is just the tip of the iceberg,” Louser’s coach Kate Canard said. “He’s very humble and he’s very kind, so that speaks volumes. When he wins, he’s a nice person.”

Louser touched the wall in the 100 breaststroke in 55.07 seconds, just ahead of Hauppauge’s Casey Jackson, who finished in 55.19. Ward Melville’s David He, Louser’s to challenger throughout the weekend, came in third in 56.59.

Trailing the majority of the 200 individual medley, Louser made a strong push in the final 25 yard to stop the clock in a personal best 1:48.20 to finish just shy of breaking Just Plaschka of Hauppauge’s 2014 record (1:47.83). Ward Melville’s David He was second in 1:51.13.

“I wasn’t expecting to set a state record, but I knew that to win that event I had to go out faster, because [Ward Melvill’e David] He is a better backstroker than I am,” Louser said. “I’m a breaststroker, and that definitely helps, but I could feel [He] on my feet.”

Ward Melville’s Luka Zuric competes in the 100-yard butterfly. Photo by Bill Landon

He redeemed his second and third-place finishes by racing in the first-place 200 medley relay with Ryan Kaplan, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubik. The quartet tripped the timer at 1:33.79. Their performance just missed the state record by 37 hundredths of a second set last year by St. Anthony’s.

“It wasn’t a great split,” said He, who raced the second leg, or breaststroke. “I wasn’t really thinking, because there was such an adrenaline rush running through me. So I kept on moving my hands trying to get to the wall as soon as possible.”

Zuric, who swam the third leg, got a little off pace after forgetting to breathe on his first lap. Kubik, the team’s anchor, made up for lost time to finish just ahead of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (1:34.03), even though he too forgot to breathe.

“I was a little off my split [time] from yesterday, but I still felt,” Kubik said. “I had to catch up from third, and I didn’t take a single breath becuase I was so excited.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was confident in his relay team, knowing its second-half abilities. He was happy to see his seniors pull out a win in their final meet.

Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan races in his leg of the 200-yard medley relay. Photo by Bill Landon

“I knew a couple of the other schools had a stronger backstroker and breaststroker combination, Hauppauge in particular, but I knew our second half was really, really strong,” Gordon said. “Luca and Cameron swam unbelievable. I was happy because we were ahead of our pace yesterday. I had so much faith in these guys.”

Zuric finished third in the 100 butterfly (50.26) and Comsewogue sophomore Jake Vecchio ended the race in fifth (51.15). Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr made it to third in the 100 backstroke (50.49) and Zuric placed sixth (51.55). The Northport 300 freestyle reay team of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey, Ethan Greenfield and Dylan Karpf claimed sixth place in 1:27.33. These points helped Section XI finish the meet with 764.5 overall points, well ahead of second-place Section VIII, which had 572.5

Louser has his sights set a little higher for his senior sesaon, especially in individual medley, being he was so close to breaking the state record.

“I have another year to go for that,” he said, laughing.

The junior is one of three Top 5 returnees in his two events combined. His head coach is looking forward to seeing what her swimmer can do next.

“He’s so dedicated to the sport, and so are his parents — he comes here to East Meadow every day for practice,” Canard said. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser stands atop the 200-yard individual medley podium. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan, David He, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubic stand at the top of the podium as the 200-yard medley relay champions. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser swims his way to a first-place Suffolk County finish in the 200-yard individual medley. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Because there’s no pool at Shoreham-Wading River, junior Jason Louser commutes over an hour to his practice pool in Eisenhower Park. That level of commitment paid off Saturday where the swimmer took a photo first in the 200-yard individual medley at the county championship, stopping the clock at 1 minute, 50.63 seconds, just two seconds ahead of second-place finisher David He of Ward Melville.

Northport’s Ethan Greenfield upset Ward Melville when he finished first in the 50-yard freestyle. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s definitely good to see that all of the hard work has paid off — it gives me more confidence and a little less stress,” said Louser, who shaved nearly six seconds off his personal best at Hauppauge High School’s pool Feb. 15. “The pool in Eisenhower Park is an hour drive from where I live, so it’s a big commitment. Trying to get to practice and all of the meets at the same time it can be a little challenging.”

An upset came in the 50 freestyle, which pitted Northport’s Ethan Greenfield against Ward Melville’s Nick Bogush, who holds the fastest time in the county at this distance. Greenfield tripped the timer at 21.89, thirteen one hundredths of a second ahead of Bogush.

Northport head coach Drew Modrov said he wasn’t expecting that kind of performance from Greenfield.

“I was surprised,” he said. “Ethan came in as the underdog, and I think he was a little surprised [knowing the time differences between them]. He just showed up on race day and won it.”

Bogush said he felt fatigued going in, but credited his challenger’s changes.

“He was very swift,” Bogush said of Greenfield. “But I’m going to come back to states and do even better. I’ll give it my best. so we’ll see what happens.”

Ward Melville’s David He helped the Patriots take gold in the 400 and 200 relays. Photo by Bill Landon

Bogush came back with a vengeance though, earning a first-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay with teammates Kevin Xu, David He and Cameron Kubik. The team finished 31 hundreths of a second ahead of Northport’s relay, led by Greenfield. The Patriots finished the event in 1:27.03. Northport’s quartet also consisted of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey and Dylan Karpf.

“Every day in practice, I try to race other people who are specialist in their event, against freestylers and backstrokers, it gives me better reach,” He said. “I’m a 400 individual medley competitor in club swimming, so I have to train in every event every day.”

Ward Melville’s foursome also held off Northport in the 400 freestyle relay, with a best time of 3:11.87, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. The Patriot’s 200 medley team was edged out by Half Hollow Hills by 0.14 seconds.

Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr (100 backstroke, 51.26) and Jack Casey (100 breaststroke, 55.34) also came in first. Casey’s time was an All-American automatic standard.

The swimmers will compete in the state championships at a familiar venue for Louser, at Nassau County Aquatic Center March 2-3.

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Undefeated Tigers boast strong swimmers, maintaining streak with no divers

Northport freshman Aiden Greenfield, won the 200-meter and 500 freestyle events, and was a member of the first-place 200 freestyle relay quartet. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Not fielding a single diver doesn’t faze the Northport boys swim team.

It hasn’t effected a single meet’s outcome yet either, as the Tigers edged previously undefeated Connetquot on the road Dec. 18, 93-90, for their fourth win of the season.

Being down 13 points before the first gun ever sounds has its challenges though, according Northport head coach Drew Modrov’s athletes though, especially when up against a strong swim team like the Thunderbirds have.

“Connetquot’s always a fierce team — we have kind of a rivalry with them — so we always know that when we come here it’s going to be a close meet,” the coach said. “It’s intense, and every point is going to matter. I’m just happy we came away with the win.”

The Greenfield brothers boasted big point totals for the Tigers.

Northport senior Zach Papsco clocked in with a state-qualifying time in the 100-meter butterfly, and was first to the block in the 100 breaststroke. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Ethan Greenfield, along with 200-meter medley relay teammates Nick Millkey and Zach Papsco and Dylan Karpf, came in first with a state-qualifying time of 1 minute, 40.25 seconds. He added to Northport’s point total with a state-qualifying times of 22.05 in the 50 freestyle and 48.73 in the 100 freestyle.

“A lot of our guys came up big — Ethan Greenfield had a couple of best times in crucial wins,” Modrov said. “It was Ethan’s personal best in the 50 free.”

Freshman Aidan Greenfield, Ethan’s younger brother, won both the 200 and 500 freestyle events, and was a member of the first-place 200 freestyle relay quartet.

“I thought that the turning point was the 500 free — we went out and finished first and third, which dropped us even,” said Karpf, the only sophomore on the 200 medley relay. “And the last relay is what I thought really cemented it for us.”

Each member of the 200 medley also shined individually.

Papsco clocked in with a state-qualifying time of 53.57 in the 100 butterfly, and was first to hit the pad in the 100 breaststroke. Millkey won the 200 individual medley, and followed it up with a victory in the 100 backstroke, also stopping the clock with his own state championship time: 54.43.

Modrov said he was particularly impressed by the performances of his underclassmen, noting Aidan Greenfield and freshman Austin Neuf’s high placements.

“At the end we had a great swim from Austin Neuf, a freshman who took second place in the 100 breaststroke, and that put us over the edge and helped us win the meet,” the coach said.

After the holiday break Northport is back in action at Ward Melville Jan. 5. The meet is currently slated to begin at 4:30 p.m.

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Kyra Sommerstad placed in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke at the state championship meet. Photos from Kyra Sommerstad

Kyra Sommerstad continues to bask in success.

The Port Jefferson sophomore swimmer made her third straight trip to the state championship meet Nov. 18 and 19 at Ithaca College, and far surpassed her finishes last season of 13th in the 200-yard individual medley and 15th in the 100 backstroke. Despite Top 10 finishes this time around, she said there’s still more work to be done.

“I was happy with how I placed,” said Sommerstad, who placed fourth in the individual medley in 2 minutes, 5.43 seconds and sixth in the backstroke in 56.59. “But I wish I swam a little faster.”

The sophomore said she felt more confident having competed at the state event the last two years, but said nerves did kick in once she got into the pool. She said she wasn’t happy with how she swam in the preliminaries, and used that to fuel her fire. As she always does, she stretched before each race; listened to music to keep her energy high; and ended up finishing the backstroke in a new personal-best time.

“I knew I had to swim fast,” Sommerstad said. “Because I wasn’t where I wanted to be coming out of preliminaries, I was nervous heading into finals, but I was trying as hard as I could — focusing on the little things.”

Her Three Village Swim Club coach Mark Anderson said her underwater work continues to make her more competitive at higher-level meets.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said of watching her compete. “I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having a meet to rest and taper for. I’m really excited to see her success continue.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner, who was not at the meet, said she was gripping her phone all day waiting to hear how Sommerstad did.

“It was really exciting seeing Kyra’s name up on the board representing little Port Jeff on a big-time stage … not small school-large school, but all schools,” Turner said. “She has proven that she is one of the best in the state.”

Now Sommerstad will prepare for the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, before going to a travel team meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Anderson said he has high hopes for his swimmer in the future.

“There’s a lot of fine-tuning that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race, and the last two years have been very rewarding for myself and for Kyra,” he said of the dedication and hard work his young swimmer has already put into training. “I would love to see her compete and contend at national-level meets, whether it be junior nationals and make Top 8 or make it to nationals and place Top 16. Our ultimate goal is to get her to the 2020 Olympic trials, and have her do great there. Regardless, getting to see her grow up and mature and become what’s going to be a very good collegiate swimmer has been a real enjoyment for me. Wherever she ends up swimming in two years, she’s going to be a coach’s dream.”

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Ward Melville’s 200-yard medley relay finished third in the state championship at Ithaca College. Photo from Sydney Boals

By Desirée Keegan

When Sydney Boals touched the wall during the state championship preliminary round of the 200-yard medley relay a second behind the swimmer next to her, she knew she had some stiff competition.

“I knew I had to have that fast turn, have a good breakout and sprint all the way to finish,” the freshman said. “I knew I had to go hard, so when I was swimming I just kept my head down, thought about trying my best and sprinted.”

As her Ward Melville swimming teammate Kaitlyn Ehlers capped off the race at Ithaca College Nov. 18, the quartet looked up at the scoreboard to see a 1 minute, 47.98 second finish, good for third place.

The Ward Melville swimming team’s
200-yard medley relay quartet
stands on the podium. Photo from
Sydney Boals

“I was super happy, and I thought everyone else was too,” said Sydney, who swam the breaststroke as the third leg. “We didn’t have our best time, unfortunately, but it was still a really good race and we made our coaches proud.”

Senior Victoria Bogdanski and sophomore Riley Gavigan were also members of the state championship-placing relay. Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was excited to see his young team put up the numbers it did.

“Not everyone gets to have this experience,” he said before talking about Bogdanski in particular. “She was thrilled, and being a senior the moment really hit her. There were tears of happiness and sadness knowing her 10-year swimming journey was coming to an end. She’s a great person, a great kid. She works really hard. You get what you put into it, and she put in the effort.”

The four girls hadn’t swum as a unit until the county competition, where the relay team placed first in 1:47.86. The Patriots were the No. 5 seed heading into the state preliminary round, and exited the first heat in the No. 4 spot before placing third in the finals.

“I was watching, shouting, getting excited with each turn, seeing if they hit the wall well, come off the wall hard — I just hoped they’d come out of the water happy with their time,” Gordon said as he was watching his relay in the finals. “They didn’t know each other’s cadence, their pace and it’s a pretty good job on their part getting together and getting in sync for such big meets.”

Boals finished with a personal best time of 1:55.19 in the 200 freestyle, good for 12th and just shy of breaking a school record. Gavigan placed 10th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:05.41.

“They swim all these events on Friday and come back on Saturday to swim them all again and it’s tiring,” Gordon said. “Their bodies can only give so many ‘A’-type efforts in a row in such a short period of time, and I thought their positive mindsets were great even after they finished.”

Members of Ward Melville’s relay team. Photo from
Sydney Boals

Riley finished the day in high spirits, saying her time wasn’t going to get her down.

“The other girls were a little nervous with it being their first time but I tried to get them to look at it like any other meet,” she said. “In the beginning of the season we were trying to qualify for the state meet, we didn’t have winning counties or even placing in the Top 20 at states in our heads. It was really surprising and I’m really proud of our team. We’re motivated, ready for next year.”

Gordon said he’s looking forward to seeing what his team can do next season.

“They should be thinking they have the opportunity to come back next year if they continue to work hard and do the right thing,” he said. “Their finish was pretty darn good, and I think the team really shocked a lot of people. This is one of my most memorable years — I’ve been here 24 years — I’ll look back on it fondly. To be able to come back next year and have another crack at it, it’s an awesome opportunity. I hope they leave this year inspired going into the offseason.”

Boals said she expects the team will be back better than ever.

“We can be great in the future bringing back some really fast swimmers,” she said. “I just wanted to make Section XI proud and make Ward Melville look good. We’re good with what we can do and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do. We’ll be back here next year — we’re going to have an even better, faster future.”

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Port Jefferson sophomore grabs gold in 100-yard backstroke, 200 individual medley for second season

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Coach Mark Anderson asked Port Jefferson swimmer Kyra Sommerstad what her goal was heading into the 200 individual medley race at the Suffolk County championships Nov. 4.

“I want to go 2:04,” she answered, which would be a career best for the sophomore.

By the time she touched the wall, Kyra had completed the 200 yards in 2 minutes, 4 seconds, which also earned her a first-place finish.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Watching her swim, she looked great,” said Anderson, her Three Village Swim Club coach for the last two years. “She had gone a 2:04, and I thought that spoke to the kind of person she is. She’s incredibly driven, very positive and she goes into every race knowing what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. It makes me proud to see someone grow the way she has over the last couple of years to someone that is capable of setting a goal in her mind and achieving it.”

On top of placing first in the individual medley, Kyra also grabbed gold in the 100 backstroke.

“I knew from last year that I could win,” said Kyra of the county meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. “I really went into it determined and I really wanted to win the same events that I won the year before.”

Being the top seed gave her confidence going in that she could reclaim the county crown in both races, she said. She said Anderson and Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein helped her work on her technique and mentality to get her ready to race. Prior to getting into the water, she stretched and listened to pop music to get in the zone.

“I swam some fast times before counties so I knew where I was going into it,” she said. “I get myself pumped up by listening to music. I just didn’t want to drop my spot.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said seeing all that the swimmer has been able to accomplish at such a young age is inspiring.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Kyra is an outstanding student and an overall great person,” Turner said. “She never looks for recognition or praise, however her accomplishments and incredible ability should absolutely be highlighted. She has represented Port Jefferson in the most positive of ways and on many stages.  We could not be more proud of Kyra, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this young talent.”

Fleckenstein shared a similar sentiment, adding that she’s been a joy to work with.

“She’s very impressive,” the coach said of Kyra. “She’s such a sweet girl. She’s gracious, she’s easy to work with. She doesn’t go in with an ‘I’m going to win because I’m the best’ attitude. She gets in the pool and does her job.”

Anderson and Fleckenstein have seen the sophomore mature over the last year, and said they think bigger and better accomplishments are ahead.

“She challenges herself every day,” Fleckenstein said. “She doesn’t like to miss practice. They’re all signs she’s headed in the right direction. There’s some untapped talent in there, and her club coach has been doing a great job bringing her along. By the time she graduates she’ll be sought after by many colleges.”

Kyra Sommerstad placed first in the 100-yard breastroke and 200 individual medley at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her Three Village Swim Club coach has been focusing on underwater work with his swimmer, including off-the-block movements, hand speed, tempo and turns.

“I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having time to rest,” Anderson said. “In the next couple of weeks she has the state championship, the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then she’s going to have our team’s travel meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of fine-tuning this week that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race this weekend and it’s going to be a real test to see how she’s prepared over the last couple of months.”

He added, with her attitude, he knows she’ll succeed.

“She is incredibly positive, incredibly hard-working, dedicated, she’s a great student in the classroom and just getting to know her and getting to see her grow up and mature has been a real enjoyment for me,” he said. “She is a coaches dream.”

Kyra validated Anderson’s comments, saying she’s ready for what lies ahead.

“I’ll be working really hard in the pool and perfecting my technique,” she said. “I’m getting ready to swim fast.”

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Patriots claim county crown for first time in three years

Ward Melville’s swim team may have thought it was a rebuilding year, but the Patriots proved they’re faster builders than some might have expected.

After claiming the Suffolk County crown 23 years in a row, the Patriots had placed fourth and fifth at the last two county meets. This year, Ward Melville returned to form, taking home the League II title with a perfect 6-0 record, and retrieving the county championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 4 with 269 points, well ahead of Connetquot with 231 points and Northport-Commack with 225.

“I don’t think going into the season we were looking at a possible county championship to be honest,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said. “We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me. We still had depth, which has always been a team strength at Ward Melville, but some of these young girls shined.”

The team’s 200-yard medley relay opened the meet and finished first in 1 minute, 47.86 seconds to beat a 2012 school record. First off the block was senior Victoria Bogdanski.

“We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me.”

—Chris Gordon

“I just thought about trying my best and being there for my team,” she said. “We didn’t know we were close to the record, so once we finished the race, we were all so excited. We all had this motivation and excitement that carried through the meet.”

Riley Gavigan, Sydney Boals and Kaitlyn Ehlers finished out the relay with personal-best times. Gavigan said she too was only thinking about her team.

“I wanted to score points, so I was going as fast as I could,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t just let down myself, I’d be letting down my whole team. We had to be in the right mindset, and we got each other pumped and ready to win.”

Gavigan qualified for three individual events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley but could only compete in two, forgoing the backstroke.

The sophomore placed second in both, finishing the individual medley in 2:08.22 and breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:04.98, just a hair off first-place finisher Margaret Purcell of Southampton, who won in 1:04.34. Gavigan said she was not expecting to break a Ward Melville record that had stood since 1990 in the individual medley, the only record Gordon had not seen broken during his tenure.

“I want to improve every year,” she said. “So heading into the meet I had tunnel vision. I was focused on myself and not everyone else around me.”

Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example.”

— Chris Gordon

Boals qualified to compete in four events — the 100 and 200 freestyles, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke — deciding to take part in both freestyles. She placed first in the 100 in 53.13 seconds and second in the 200 in 1:54.14.

“I was shocked I won the 100 freestyle — those girls were a lot older than me,” she said. “I’m usually a mid-distance competitor, so I was excited to get that time.”

She broke a 2009 record in the 100 freestyle at the league meet and outdid her time on the county stage. She said it only motivates her to dig deeper.

“We knew we had to show we were ready and we weren’t afraid of losing,” Boals said. “Now I know I can get even faster than I am now.”

Gordon said Boals and Gavigan mean a lot to the team, and noted their impact on the other girls.

“They’re both mentally tough kids and they like to compete and they like to race,” he said. “Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example. Whatever I ask her to do, there’s never a problem. It’s never an issue.”

Ward Melville’s 400 freestyle relay team, which comprised Gavigan, Boals, Ehlers and Kylie Kramer, also qualified. The quartet finished third with a time of 3:40.13. Ehlers also finished ninth in the 100 butterfly; Kramer finished sixth in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 freestyle of Kramer, Hope Farrell, Frances Clever and Sophia Swanson finished third in 1:45.02. Bogdanski reached the finish line eighth in the 100 backstroke.

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores.”

— Chris Gordon

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores,” Gordon said. “At this point in the season, for them to be swimming as fast as they are and as young as they are, it’s exciting. We will be graduating 10 or 12 seniors, but right now we’re gathering steam and all of the sudden everyone is dropping time and everyone is doing really well.”

The season started off with a bump in the road for the Patriots. Ward Melville lost its opening nonleague meet to a tough Connetquot team, now the county runner-up for the last three seasons, but bounced back to top rival Half Hollow Hills, the defending county champion from last year.

“We worked our hearts out and tried to do our best,” Boals said. “We wanted the seniors to leave with a county championship. We wanted them to have fun and coach to be proud and once we beat Half Hollow Hills and we won the league, we knew we had counties in the bag.”

Gavigan said the momentum will propel the team toward success this weekend in the state finals Nov. 17 and 18 at Ithaca College.

“We were the No. 3 seed heading into counties, so it was good to win and show the other teams that we’re right there with them,” she said. “We’re in the right mindset to place well at states.”

If the county meet was any indication, Gordon said, the girls are peaking at the right time.

“They work very hard, they get along very well in and out of the pool and they’re just a great bunch of girls,” he said. “Some of their siblings have been past members of the team, so there’s some legacy there and they take this seriously. They’re very dedicated, which I appreciate. I’m hoping everyone has a little more left in the tank to go a little faster this weekend.”