Fall sports

A strong finish powers Greenwich girls swimming team to the FCIAC team title

Photo by David Fierro: The Greenwich High School girls swimming team gathers with their coaches after winning the team title at the FCIAC Swimming Championships, which was held at Greenwich High on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

Greenwich trailed Darien by 26 points in the team standings following the 200-yard freestyle relay at Saturday’s FCIAC Championships, meaning there were only three events remaining in the meet. Yet the Cardinals were confident with their position at that point of the championship meet and for very good reason.

The Cardinals knew they had three swimmers competing in the second heat of the 100-yard backstroke and four more testing their skills in the 100 breaststroke, so they had opportunities to score plenty of more points.

And they certainly did.

A 1-2-3 finish in the 100-yard backstroke, followed by a 1-3 showing in the 100 breaststroke gave Greenwich a sizeable lead and it proceeded to continue its perfect season.

Sophomore Payton Foster won two individual events for host Greenwich, which captured the FCIAC championship with a team score of 405 points. Ridgefield was the runner-up with 340 points, followed by Darien (339). Staples place fourth (233) and New Canaan and Wilton tied for fifth (148) in the 12-team championship meet.

“We set our lineup up, so we felt good going into the end of the meet with where we were,” Greenwich coach Brendan Heller said. “We performed well enough in prelims where we were set up well at the back of the meet. So our goal for the front half was to keep moving up in the spots we were in. And the back half, we knew with three in the backstroke and four in the breaststroke A finals – we knew that would put us ahead.”

Photo by David Fierro: Payton Foster won the 200 freestyle and 100-yard backstroke titles at the FCIAC Championships.

Foster won the FCIAC backstroke title with a time of 56.83 seconds. Senior Isabella Malchow, one of the Cardinals’ captains, placed second in 58.85, followed by teammate Sena Bozkurt, a freshman (59.32). Riley Riebling, a senior, was fourth for Ridgefield (59.95).

“I was really nervous about that race, but I had a lot of teammates, which made it so much fun,” Foster said. “Looking at the beginning of the season, we worked so hard to get here and it’s paid off.

“Going 1-2-3 in the backstroke, I wasn’t really expecting it,” Heller said. “But it was nice to see.”

Malchow was happy to be involved in the momentum-changing event.

“I love that race, I was very excited to go into it. It was a really great turn for the meet and by then we were like, this is really exciting,” Malchow said. “Overall, our whole team atmosphere and cheering on each other really helped us.”

Greenwich took a 312-304 lead on Darien after the 100 backstroke, then increased its advantage in the 100 breaststroke. Freshman Michelle Weissler was the 100-yard breaststroke winner for the Cards, touching the wall in 1:04.21. Morgan Saunders of Norwalk/McMahon placed second (1:06.68) and Greenwich sophomore Sydney Jee finished third (1:06.78).

“It was the climax of this season,” Weissler said of the ending of the FCIAC finals. “There was so much energy and we were very hyped up. We were counting on these last few races to win the meet. It was so much fun.”

Following the 100 breaststroke, Greenwich clinched the FCIAC team title with 371 points.

“The breaststroke has been our Achilles Heel all season,” Heller said. “Michelle Weissler, a ninth-grader, she stepped up and performed beautifully for a freshman and it was awesome.”

Michelle Weissler claimed the gold medal in the 100 breaststroke at the FCIAC Championships on Nov. 6, 2021, at Greenwich High.

The meet’s record was broken in the opening event – the 200-yard medley relay. Bozkurt, Weissler, senior Caterina Li and sophomore Sophie Wang combined for a winning and FCIAC record time of 1:45.93. Darien finished second (1:47.50) and Trumbull took third (1:50.36).

“We were happy to take the medley relay to start the meet and that kind of set us up for a beautiful night,” said Heller, whose squad finished its dual meet season with a 9-0 record.

Greenwich swims to the gold medal in the 200 medley relay at the FCIAC finals. Click to watch the video.

In the 200 freestyle, Foster garnered the gold medal posting time of 1:50.73. Jessica Qi of Staples had a second-place finish (1:56.05) and Ridgefield’s Keira Giles was third (1:57.01).

“That was a tough one, especially all the nerves and everything, because it was our first big FCIAC meet, because of last year,” Foster said. “But getting to swim with all of my teammates, it was so much fun.”

The victory marked Greenwich’s first FCIAC team title since the 2018 season. Darien won the FCIAC championship in 2019.

Payton Foster, middle in green, of Greenwich stands on the podium after winning the gold medal in the 200-yard freestyle race at the 2021 FCIAC Swimming Championships, held at Greenwich High School on Nov. 6, 2021.

Trumbull senior Lauren Walsh was the 200-yard individual medley champion. Walsh earned the first-place medal by registering a time of 2:02.74. Darien sophomore Ward Miller was the runner-up (2:03.80), followed by Ridgefield’s Miranda Bonitatebus (2:07.21) and New Canaan’s Lily Codd (2:07.88).

The 50 freestyle saw freshman Annam Olasewere of Staples touch the wall first in 22.82. She set the FCIAC record in the race in the FCIAC preliminaries, clocking in at 22.77. Her time in the event is one of the fastest in her age group in the nation – an All-America time.

“It really helps to be in a competitive environment with so many fast swimmers around me,” said Olasewere, who earned FCIAC Swimmer of the Meet honors. “I just treally focused on what my coach said. He tells you exactly what to do before the race and I was going over it in my head. I just got it done.”

Olasewere then set an FCIAC record by winning the 100-yard freestyle in 50.18. Qi of Staples was the runner-up (52.21) and Greenwich’s Wang took third (52.65).

Staples freshman Annam Olasewere receivers FCIAC Swimmer of the Meet honors from Westhill coach Rick Lewis.

The FCIAC Diving Championships was held Thursday at Westhill High School. Natalie Penman from New Canaan earned a first-place finish with a score of 439.85 points. Greenwich senior Annie Bingle finished a close second, totaling 436.70 points over 11 rounds of diving. New Canaan’s Kaitlyn Maggio had a third-place finish on the 1-meter diving board (434.50), followed by Westhill/Stamford’s Hannah Chuckas (409.60).

Miller took the 100 butterfly title for Darien, clocking in at 54.88. Walsh of Trumbull finished second (55.21) and Ridgefield’s Lily Archibald was third (56.43).

Virginia Hastings from Wilton claimed the gold medal in the 500-yard freestyle (5:04.74). Codd of New Canaan was a close second (5:06.59) and Darien’s Margaret Erickson finished third (5:11.54).

An FCIAC record was also set in the 200 freestyle relay, as Staples registered a winning effort in an eye-opening time of 1:36.27. Greenwich’s Daisy Decker, Emma Robinson, Wang and Foster finished a strong second in 1:37.49.

Greenwich’s Emma Robinson gets ready on the blocks during one of the team’s relay races at the FCIAC finals.

The 400 freestyle relay title also went to Staples (3:31.87). Greenwich’s Li, Anabelle Guarnera, Robinson and Foster combined for the silver medal (3:32.68).

“Their freestyle relays were great (Staples) they bring out the best in us,” Heller said.

Daniela Pompa gets ready to swim in one of Greenwich’s relay races at the FCIAC Championships on Nov. 6, 2021.

This marked Heller’s first coaching appearance at the FCIAC Championships. He’s in his first season as the Cardinals’ coach.

“Everybody told me this was one of the best conferences in the state and they’re right,” Heller said. “There’s so much depth up and down and we are grateful. We’re just happy to come away with the win and look forward to taking it to the state level.”

Greenwich’s Payton Foster won the 200-yard freestyle race at the FCIAC finals.

Up next for Greenwich is the CIAC Class LL preliminaries and finals, followed by the season-ending State Open Championships.

“I’m so proud of our team,” Malchow said. “We’ve been working really hard the past few months and it’s paying off. I think it’s really just the beginning for our team, which is such an amazing thing, with all the other championships to come.”

Heller will be busy again Sunday, but he won’t be coaching. He’ll be running in the New York City Marathon.

“It took me two days to recover from the FCIAC preliminaries so I started feeling better yesterday and I have less turnaround time,” a smiling Heller said. “I have to be on ferry on Staten Island tomorrow morning. I am proud of our team, program, fans and community for their support. This is awesome, you can’t take this away, but on Monday we are back to work and we’ll be getting ready for states.”

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