The Day’s All-Area Swimmer of the Year: Waterford’s Ella Dyjak
Ella Dyjak likes music. Any kind of music. She has a playlist that is seven hours long.
“One of my team’s favorites is ‘Africa’ by Toto,” said Dyjak, a sophomore swimmer at Waterford High School. “Every bus ride, we sing it.”’
“Africa,” released in 1982, is more than double Dyjak’s age (15).
“There was a senior last year, Sophia (Podeszwa), it was her favorite song. So we would always listen to it. We’re keeping the tradition going," Dyjak said.
Dyjak swims long distances for the Lancers and is quite good at it. She has repeated as The Day’s 2018 All-Area Swimmer of the Year.
Dyjak won the 200-yard freestyle (1:55.00) and 500 freestyle (5:05.52) at the Eastern Connecticut Conference swimming and diving championship on Nov. 3 to win her second straight Swimmer of the Meet honor.
Music helps her get through the 500.
“Any time I swim a long distance, at the halfway mark I sing that song. I forget the name, ‘You’re halfway there, oh-hhhhh!’”
"Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi?
“Yeah, ‘Living on a Prayer,'” Dyjak replied. “Any time I’m in the middle 50, I’m like, ‘I’m halfway there!’ That’s usually what I do.”
Dyjak, if it isn’t already obvious, has a lot of energy (“I’ve been doing sports since I was a little kid because my parents needed to get my energy out,” she said). She’s also pretty upbeat, a family trait, and prefers to stay on the sunny side of life.
Swimming long distance requires both endurance and toughness and Dyjak has both. And, again, energy.
“Her training and her work ethic, she doesn’t take a lot of stuff off,” Waterford coach Brett Arnold said. “Sometimes, with younger athletes, they (slack off). Not Ella. She knows in order to swim fast in her meets, she’s got to put in the work at practice. There’s no magic pill you can take. You just have to put in the hard work and she does.”
Jack Stabach, the longtime head coach of East Lyme girls’ swimming, met Dyjak years ago when she joined the Nutmeg Swim Team.
“She was just so bubbly and full of life and she’d just go after it all the time,” Stabach said. “That kid swims with her heart. She goes nuts. The amount of energy that she puts in that 500, not many people can do that. She’s a tough cookie. Her own natural drive is a gift.
“I don’t know how her threshold for pain is but it must be pretty high. When she wants it, she gets after it.”
The 200 and 500 freestyle aren’t even Dyjak’s strongest events, although she’s among the best in the state at them. She placed second in both the 200 freestyle (1:54.16) and 500 freestyle (5:08.28) at the CIAC Class S championship on Nov. 14 and swam the anchor leg for the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.
Two days later, Dyjak finished fifth in the 500 freestyle (5:01.97, a Waterford school record) at the State Open. She placed eighth in the 200 freestyle at the State Open (1:54.82), too.
Even longer distances are Dyjak’s thing.
“When I was younger, I was usually better at longer distances,” Dyjak said. “I swam the 500 at such a young age, like 10, then I just got used to that so I started building up to it.
“Once (I got older), I was just like, ‘Oh, why not try the longer events?’ So then I started swimming the 800 and the 1,000 and the mile (competing with the Connecticut Aquatic Club). I’m swimming a 5K at Miami Beach this spring. It’s an open water (event).”
Dyjak qualified for the 5K at an event at Quassy Amusement Park over the summer. She finished in a little over an hour.
“I’ve always loved the mile and since I like the mile, I thought why not try the 5K,” Dyjak said. “And I like open water because it’s kind of like a change of scenery instead of swimming back and forth.
“I think I threw up a little bit at the end in the water but it was a really fun experience. I like swimming and it’s fun to not do normal things and push yourself as hard as you can.”
The Day's 2018 All-Area Swimming & Diving Team
Player of the Year — Ella Dyjak (Waterford)
200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke — Nikki Hahn (East Lyme)
50 freestyle — Mary Kathryn Taylor (East Lyme)
Diving — Anna Johnson (East Lyme)
100 butterfly — Katie Keating (East Lyme)
100 freestyle — Grace Vlaun (East Lyme)
100 backstroke — Olivia Strelevitz (Ledyard)
200-yard medley relay — East Lyme (Hiruni Jayawickreme, Nikki Hahn, Katie Keating, Kate Orefice)
200 freestyle relay — East Lyme (Grace Vlaun, Maeve Counter, Kate Orefice, Mary Kathryn Taylor)
400 freestyle relay — East Lyme (Grace Vlaun, Maeve Counter, Katie Keating, Mary Kathryn Taylor)
Utility — Connie Pan (Old Lyme/Valley Regional)