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In 'virtual' ECC season, Ledyard High swimmers will have a cool pool

Ledyard — The Eastern Connecticut Conference has decided that its girls' swimming and diving teams will hold virtual meets for the 2020 season, due to COVID-19.

Each team will conduct its half of each scheduled meet at its home pool. One official will be sent to each site. Times will be compared to determine the scoring. ECC swimming chairman Steve Hargis, the East Lyme High School athletic director, is working to have a web site built where the girls can see their times along with a few photographs and videos.

"We realize it's not optimal. We're just trying to make it more fun for the girls," Ledyard High School coach Katey Kokomoor said. "We want their accomplishments to be celebrations. We want them to have an experience."

Ledyard's practice time has been an experience in itself.

The Colonels, who needed a new facility due to the long-term closure of the pool at the Mashantucket Community Center, found a home pool at Vitale Aquatic and Tennis on Route 214 in Ledyard, what senior Tessa Finnegan calls a "three-minute drive" from Ledyard High.

The pool at the VAT is outdoors. It's colder than their former pool, junior Jillian Anderson said with a smile.

In the fall and winter months, the six-lane, 25-yard pool, will be enclosed in a bubble, giving Ledyard perhaps the coolest home turf in a virtual season.

"It's a faster pool. It was designed to be a competitive pool more than multi-use," Kokomoor said. "For the coaches, it's delightful to be outside. (The owners of the facility have been welcoming), very much so. They had everything all set up for us. The Vitales own the Thames Aquatic Club (competitive swim team), so they had places for the girls to put their backpacks; everything was all set up."

For now, high school teams can practice in groups of 10 and only for an hour. That lasts through Sept. 20, with full team practices allowed beginning Sept. 21. The competitive season is set to begin Oct. 1.

Kokomoor has her more experienced swimmers coming in to practice from 3-4 p.m. and the newcomers from 4-5.

"It's very different," Finnegan said. "We have to get going right away. You get going and all of a sudden, practice is over."

Finnegan, one of two senior captains along with Aubrie Lozier, said she didn't swim competitively over the summer, but got a membership at the VAT to stay in shape. She spent the summer months as a lifeguard at the Naval Submarine Base, both at the pool and at the lake. She's happy to see her teammates — "it's been a long time," she said — and said she can't wait for the next step.

"The freshmen, we don't really know them," she said. "I don't really know their names."

Anderson swam with her team at the Westerly YMCA for eight weeks this summer, but there were no meets.

"We didn't do meets but there were swim practices three days a week," Anderson said. "It wasn't as difficult; we were working on our technique. I love swimming. It wasn't boring. Practice is also fun, hanging out with your friends."

Kokomoor credited athletic director Jim Buonocore for finding the Colonels their new facility. Buonocore said he began looking in June.

"It's been a mixed bag," Kokomoor said of the two separate practices. "We're able to divide the group and give the attention to these new students and conditioning to the older girls. "But the hour goes by real fast. ... This is very good for the girls. They need the physical and the social outlet. It's a great group of girls. They're good friends."

The virtual meets were not mandated by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body for high school sports, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is allowing a maximum of 25 people on the pool deck at one time.

While several teams in the state still plan to hold in-person dual meets, using a holding area for swimmers not competing at a given time, the ECC finalized their plans for virtual meets during a video conference Tuesday night.

"I think it's a great opportunity," Hargis, who will collate the times, said of the virtual meets. "It would be great if everyone could swim head-to-head, yes. But the 25 people in a pool, that was the driver."

Hargis said the ECC coaches discussed having the athletes swim different races than usual to get used to some of the collegiate distances.

"We did open it up. We said here's an opportunity, if you're interested, to really be creative, still progress and obtain goals," Hargis said. "What if we tried (different distances)? We can try it because this isn't as high stakes as it is normally. In the end, we were moving a little bit out of the comfort zone, so we meandered back to regular meets, which is fine."



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