The Day's All-Area Swimmer of the Year: Waterford's Ella Dyjak
It’s not a high school event, but the greatest distance Ella Dyjak swims for her club team is the 1,650-yard freestyle, which she said she completes in around 17 minutes, 40 seconds.
“I usually sing in my head, so I’m not focusing on the pain,” said Dyjak, a Waterford High School freshman, on what, exactly you think about for 17-plus minutes in the water. “I start singing. I try to focus on my stroke and my turns. There’s a counter and they give signals from the coach, so I pay attention to that. When you shake it, it means go fast. When you turn it upside down, it means sprint.”
The distances are Dyjak’s thing. She won the Class S state championship in the 500 freestyle, the lengthiest of high school events, and finished second in the 200 freestyle. She won both those events at the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet Nov. 4 at UConn Avery Point, being named Swimmer of the Meet.
For her successes, Dyjak was named The Day’s 2017 All-Area Swimmer of the Year.
“In club, I swim the distances,” said Dyjak, 14. “Those are my go-to events. You don’t swim them a lot until 13-and-overs because it takes too long. When I turned 13, I started swimming more distances.”
“When we have some new kids on the swim team, they look at the 500 and say, ‘That’s a long-distance race,’” Waterford coach Brett Arnold said. “But those are sprint events. When you watch Ella swim, she sprints it. That’s a talent that she has. That’s a tough event. She gets after it.”
At the ECC meet, Dyjak won the 500 in 5:09.78, not far off the league record of 5:02.34 held by former Ledyard All-American Jessica Hespeler. She was a little bit ill at the state meet, winning the 500 in 5:13.94, but swam a personal best in the event at the State Open, coming in seventh in 5:08.04.
Dyjak also helped Waterford to a second-place team finish at the ECC meet, the highest finish in program history, and to a seventh-place showing at the Class S meet. In Class S, she was second in the 200 freestyle in 1:55.84, in addition to leading the Lancers to a fifth-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay (1:48.32) and a sixth in the 400 freestyle relay (4:00.28).
The 5-foot-7 Dyjak is an interesting study on deck; her exuberance manifests itself in high-fives, hugs and drum rolls on the starting blocks. She uses the word “fun” repeatedly and, as a freshman, looks up to her older teammates. She is also willing to put in the work to excel. She lists New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an athlete she looks up to because of his work ethic.
“I watched a documentary, a 30 for 30 on him. I try and work as hard as I can. He’s so successful because he works so hard,” Dyjak said of Brady. “The whole team worked really hard. They worked hard and had fun. We had a lot of good freshmen all the way up to (senior) Sophia Podeszwa, who won the (ECC) diving. We went (8-3) as a team. It’s a lot of fun with your friends.”
“She works hard,” Arnold said. “As soon as she hits the water, she’s all business. She’s smart enough as a swimmer to figure out how is she going to handle this? She’s constantly preparing. She’s a student of the sport. She likes to work hard. She’s a fierce competitor. And she’s a blast to have on our team.”
Arnold believes that Dyjak’s infectious energy and the ease with which she converses will make her a great leader. He approached athletic director Dave Sousa about allowing the freshman to represent the Lancers as a part of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s new “Class Act Sportsmanship” program.
“She could be a talented swimmer and be a leader,” Arnold said. “She could really influence things over the next couple years. This is something she could do. In another three years, who knows where she could be going off to?”
Dyjak, who began swimming at the age of 7 or 8 when her family lived in New Hampshire, knows she still has progress to make. She swims continuously throughout the year with her club team, the Connecticut Aquatic Club, where she has met former Waterford standout Asia Langley, as well as Hespeler, whose 500 record she aspires to someday break.
“She was an All-American,” Dyjak said of Hespeler. “I’m not there, not yet.”
“There’s no denying her talent,” Arnold said. “I’m looking forward to working with her, her family, her club coach. She has an unlimited ceiling. … Her first or second race (in high school), she was breaking a school record. She swam on the middle school team. We had seen her develop. She came to us already good to go.”
Year — Ella Dyjak (Waterford)
200-yard individual medley, 100 breaststroke — Taylor Gray (East Lyme)
50 freestyle — Connie Pan (Old Lyme/Valley Regional)
Diving — Sophia Podeszwa (Waterford)
100 butterfly — Mary Kathryn Taylor (East Lyme)
100 freestyle, 100 backstroke — Olivia Strelevitz (Ledyard)
500 freestyle — Elyse Gathy (Waterford)
200 medley relay — East Lyme (Erin Munch, Katie Keating, Taylor Gray, Abigail Bessire)
200 freestyle relay — East Lyme (Mary Kathryn Taylor, Maeve Counter, Kate Orefice, Grace Vlaun)
400 freestyle relay — East Lyme (Mary Kathryn Taylor, Maeve Counter, Kate Orefice, Grace Vlaun)
Utility — Maddie Johanson (Ledyard)