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Dakota Williams softens when he speaks of his grandparents, Frank and Nobuko Williams, who live across the street from him in Noank.
It was his grandfather who taught him to swim in Palmer's Cove, right behind his house, and it is his grandmother, a native of Japan, who cooks special dishes for him, providing the comforts that only a grandmother can.
"They're inseparable," Katie Williams, Dakota's mom, said of he and his grandparents. "I don't think they've ever missed a day when they didn't see each other."
"It's the best of any out there," Dakota said of the food. "... (My grandmother) is a short little Asian lady. I just like being around her. I enjoy being around my family."
When he's in the pool, however, Dakota Williams, a 6-foot-4 junior captain on the Fitch High School swim team, is a staunch competitor.
He was named Swimmer of the Meet at the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship on March 8 at UConn-Avery Point, setting a meet record in the 50-yard freestyle in 21.84 seconds and also winning the 100 freestyle in 46.99 seconds.
The 50-yard freestyle record was formerly 21.90, co-held by Fitch alum Tow Rowland and East Lyme alum Adam Opsahl. The 100 record of 46.36 is owned by Fitch graduate Emmett Dignan, who went on to swim for Division I Virginia Tech.
Rowland and Dignan? All-Americans.
"Special," Fitch coach Ken Berg said of Williams' ECC performance. "Imagine if you could can that and open it up whenever you want?"
Williams has been named The Day's 2014 All-Area Swimmer of the Year.
He also contributed to a pair of relay victories at the league meet, giving him four first-place finishes.
He was seeded first in both individual freestyle events at the Class M state championship before getting sick at exactly the wrong time, placing fifth in the 50 and sixth in the 100, while still swimming both relays with his teammates.
Berg said Williams, 17, absorbs the idea of the hard work it takes to compete at an elite level.
Williams attends optional practices before school. He works with Berg at his landscaping business during the summer and winter. He shovels sidewalks. He serves as a busboy at his family's restaurant, The Fisherman, just up the street from his house.
Berg feels Williams will become an even better swimmer with more seasoning.
"I think he's on the right track," Berg said. "He has the potential to be so good. Physically, a lot of people have potential and you just need to expand on your experience level.
"He's made some big moves since last year. He's just going to get to the point where when you're swimming, you don't feel any pain; you just go. That was already one of the fastest swims ever in that pool."
Williams was part of a Fitch team with only nine swimmers. He said that made the Falcons even closer as a unit. He lauds Berg, saying, "I'd swim for him all over again."
What were his thoughts on his successful day at the ECC meet?
"I was thinking of all the hard work, all the drills we do, going as fast as I could," Williams said. "I had a good coach ... good support from my family."
In addition, Williams was Fitch's ECC Sportsmanship Award winner. He's a member of Fitch's Humanitarian Club, which raises money for different projects and causes.
"He's a really good soul," said John Williams, Dakota's father. "The fact that he can go to practice before school, school, go to practice after school and still get good grades ... and he's so down to earth. Everything he's achieved, to him that doesn't make him better than anyone else."
Player of the Year: Dakota Williams (Fitch)
200-yard medley relay - East Lyme (Zach Kosakowski, Clayton Otter, Eric Stirtan, Ben Biondi)
200 freestyle, 500 freestyle - Aidan Karam (NFA)
200 individual medley - Aidan Ely (Fitch)
Diving - Mitch Ryan (East Lyme), 425.55
100 butterfly -Austin Toback (East Lyme)
200 freestyle relay - East Lyme (Ben Biondi, Austin Toback, Clayton Otter, Eric Stirtan)
100 backstroke - Zach Kosakowski (East Lyme)
100 breaststroke - Clayton Otter (East Lyme)
400 freestyle relay - Fitch (Aidan Ely, Dakota Williams, Sean Estep, Sam Kokomoor)