Fall sports

Greenwich High School girls swimming team determined to excel against competitive FCIAC, state opponents

Photo by David Fierro: From left to right, Bella Malchow, Emma Robinson and Esme Merrill are senior captains of the Greenwich High School girls swimming/diving team. Caterina Li, also a captain, is not pictured.

Greenwich convincingly won the FCIAC West Region swimming championship in 2020, yet it was unable to compete for the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open titles since COVID-19 restrictions forced the season to be shortened and modified.

All of the exciting, postseason championship meets are scheduled to be held this fall, however, so the Cardinals, who have experienced unprecedented success in their conference and state, are hoping to add to their collection of titles.

“We’re excited to have a traditional season,” Greenwich first-year coach Brendan Heller said. “At the same time, this program has a lot of tradition and history and we want to live up to that. Win the day, every day. That’s our message from Day 1 – to win the day.”

Heller takes over the coaching reigns from Lorrie Hokayem, who spent spent seven highly successful seasons at the helm. She stepped down as coach following the Cardinals’ 2020 season, which saw the squad end the season by capturing the FCIAC West Region title.

Hokayem, who took over Greenwich’s girls varsity swim program in 2014, coached the Cardinals to five CIAC Class LL team championships (2014-2018), four State Open titles, including four straight from 2015 to 2018 and two FCIAC championships (2017, 2018), during her tenure. Heller spent the past winter as the boys varsity coach at Woodland Regional High School. During Woodland’s 2020-21 campaign, it broke 11 of 13 team records and was led by All-American performer Jake Arisian, a rising senior. Woodland finished second in the teams standings behind Holy Cross at the NVL Championships.

Additionally, Heller previously coached the swim team at Sacred Heart Greenwich for four seasons and also worked at the school’s athletic department.

“Greenwich High School and Greenwich, in general, is the mecca of swimming in Connecticut,” Heller said “It’s an honor and I want to live up to the high standard that’s been set prior to me. I’m passionate about where I think we can go the next 12 weeks.”

Photo by David Fierro: Brendan Heller, right, begins his first season as coach of the Greenwich High School girls swimming/diving team. To his left is assistant coach Erin Ritz, also in her first season with the team.

The Cardinals are captained by seniors Caterina Li, Bella Malchow, Esme Merrill and Emma Robinson.

“To be the oldest in this group and spread the sense of pride and family to the team – I’m honored to be in this position,” said diver Esme Merrill, who placed seventh at the FCIAC West Diving Championships in 2020 (348.80). “Being a senior on the team, it’s been beautiful to watch the team grow and evolve into what it is.”

Senior Annie Bingle, a three-time NISCA All-America diver, who won the FCIAC West championship a year ago with an All-America score of 461.25 points, sophomore Ellie Scharff (sixth at FCIAC West Championships, 353.20), Merrill and junior Javiera Garcia are among some of the divers should pace the Cardinals.

“We have a lot of dual meets and the divers on those teams are very strong,” Merrill said. “We’re looking forward to this dual meets, it will definitely be good competition.”

Greenwich looking forward to competing in a traditional season, unlike last year, when its schedule included just a handful of opponents.

“Being able to feel that competition is getting us so excited to compete,” Merrill said. “We’re looking forward to FCIACs, LLs and states and we’re looking to have a big showing. We had three divers last year at FCIACs, which was huge, and since then people have only grown more. We are looking forward to hopefully, getting some more crowns too.”

Contributed photo: Senior Annie Bingle is coming off an All-America diving season for Greenwich.

Robinson has competed in the 200-yard individual medley, 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly in past seasons.

“It’s super cool to be one of the captains,” Robinson said. “I’ve grown up looking up to all of the older girls, now to be one of the older girls is something that makes me so excited to help lead this team. I’ve been led by such amazing swimmers and divers and I can’t wait now to help provide leadership to the team.”

Like her teammates, Robinson has enjoyed her years she’s spent on the squad.

“This program has changed my high school experience, I’ve made some of my best friends over the years on this team,” she said.

Li posted first-place finishes in the 100-yard butterfly (58.06) and 100 breaststroke (1:06.79) and was part of Greenwich’s winning 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay at the FCIAC West finals. The Cardinals’ 400 freestyle relay, which included Li, 2021 Greenwich graduate and Meghan Lynch (multiple All-America performer swimming at Stanford University), sophomore Payton Foster and Victoria Liu (doing club swimming this season).

Malchow’s speciality is the 100-yard backstroke and she will be looking to provide depth in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley.

“We have a lot of people returning which is great, but we also have a lot of new faces, so we’re adding to the team, which is great,” Malchow said. “Everyone has been bringing a lot of energy and the team is already bonding really well together.”

The Greenwich High School girls swimming team gets ready to practice. The Cardinals open their season on Sept. 14.

Foster is one of the premier distance swimmers in the state. She earned top honors in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle at last seasons’ FCIAC Region Championships, after producing a sensational freshman season. Sophomores Sydney Jee and Sabrina Hobert are among the many athletes that are expected to shine for the Cardinals, whose roster includes more than 30 competitors.

“We’re kind of feeling out what everyone is swimming,” Heller said. “We’re trying to develop the deepest and fastest team that we could by November. Right now, we’re seeing where everyone is going to fit in. We have a strong nucleus.”

The Cardinals, whose coaching staff includes diving coach Kevin Thompson, open their season on Sept. 14 against Danbury on the road. Their first home meet is Sept. 17 versus Fairfield Warde.

“Our goal is to have fun and do very well as a team,” Malchow said. “We are excited about having a full season and being able to travel to other pools as well, which helps us all bond together as a team. Hopefully, spectators can come as well. We love having them cheer us on. Our coaches are pumping us up and I think it’s going to be a great season.”

Said Robinson: “We’re hoping to win FCIACs, Class LLs and the Open. We’re all pushing each other and practice and training as much as we can.”

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