The 2021 season couldn’t have gone any better for Greenwich High School’s girls swimming team, which captured the State Open, Class LL and FCIAC championships after registering a dominant, undefeated dual meet season.
Indeed, it was quite a storybook season for the Cardinals, who authored one winning chapter after another. For coach Brendan Heller, his first season at the helm was certainly one to remember.
“Last year was amazing, because it was a season that couldn’t go better than it did,” Heller said. ‘We dominated pretty much every meet we competed in and that’s unusual, I would say. It was awesome, because a goal when I took over the program was for our team to win a state championship. The kids worked really hard, they were really talented and they came together and they earned it.”
Greenwich’s storied swimming history features 22 State Open team championships, including five titles over the past six seasons, along with numerous FCIAC and Class LL titles. The Cardinals, who open their 2022 campaign with a home meet against FCIAC foe Trumbull on September 8, of course, enter their 2022 campaign with their usual high expectations.
“We’ve had a lot of championships the past few years and it’s really exciting to carry that legacy on to my senior year,” Greenwich senior tri-captain Matilda Mancini said. “Hopefully, we can win some championships this year.”
Joining Mancini as team captains are juniors Javiera Garcia, Annabelle Guarnera and Sydney Jee, all of whom were key contributors to last season’s championship squad. The Cardinals’ group of captains will be relied upon for leadership in and out of the pool, since the squad has a lot of new faces, with more than 15 freshmen joining the program.
“The freshmen have really great potential and we are going to be strong again,” Jee said. “We have a lot of incoming freshmen and they are going to improve with our training.”
The Cards’ captains are embracing their increased roles as the start of the regular season rapidly approaches.
“It feels great, I love being a leader of such a great team and it’s fun to lead a team,” Jee noted. “I had great captains in the past who were a good example for me.”
Said Garcia, one of Greenwich’s top divers: “This year we have a lot of new faces, so we have a whole new team this year and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Being able to be here for four years and being a captain this year – it feels like a huge accomplishment.”
“It’s such an honor, because this team has such a great reputation,” Mancini said. “I’m really excited.”
Last season saw the Cardinals capture the team title at the State Open Championships with a team score of 505.5 points. Darien placed second in the team standings at the State Open with 377 points.
“It was such a great feeling to win the State Open, Class LL and FCIAC championships,” Jee said. “It was so rewarding after all that hard training and to see the team be so happy at the end – it was really nice. A lot of the seniors brought a lot to the team.”
Greenwich claimed the 2021 CIAC Class LL state team title with a score of 785 points. Ridgefield was the runner-up (610 points. At the 2021 FCIAC Championships, the Cards compiled 405 points to secure the title.
Jee finished eighth in the 200-yard individual medley at the Class LL Championships and placed third in the 100-yard breaststroke last season. She will be looked upon to help spark the squad in the individual medley and breaststroke this fall.
“Sydney Jee is very talented and she’s very well respected by her peers,” Heller said. “She was very successful last year and I think she’ll be a great role model to the younger swimmers in terms of helping them train and mentally prepare for the races. She can do all four strokes very well.”
Jee aspires to bring her swimming skills to the collegiate level after she graduates from GHS in 2024.
“As a team, we hope to be a cohesive team and try to win the state title if we can,” Jee said. “My personal goals are to drop time and to hopefully get All-State and All-FCIAC.”
Mancini competed in the 100 backstroke at the Class LL finals and should help pace the squad in the event this fall, along with swimming in the 100 butterfly.
“Matilda came on really strong at the end of last season, particularly in the backstroke and she made the state finals, which was huge for us,” Heller said. “She’s a good leader and a great student in the classroom. She’s another good role model for the younger kids to learn from.”
The 2020 season was modified and shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but last season, all three postseason championship meets – the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open championships – returned.
“It was very fun, we started to bring our traditions back,” Mancini said of last season. “My sophomore year was different because of COVID, but last year we started that path back and this year we’re continuing to get back to where we were.”
Garcia is coming off a season in which she placed fourth on the 1-meter diving board at the Class LL Championships, then finished among the top 15 at the State Open Championships.
She recently announced that she has committed to dive at the Division I level at Fordham University.
“Greenwich High always has a good diving program and it comes up clutch a lot of the times,” Heller said. “The diving will definitely be a backbone for us. Javi Garcia is one of the top divers at the state level. In dual meets, she will pick up a lot of points for us and she’ll use FCIACs as a tune-up for state meets. We hope to see her back in the State Open.”
Said Garcia: “Last year was fun, I was one of the four divers at FCIACs and this year getting the opportunity to compete again for the team feels nice.”
Guarnera competed in the 200-yard freestyle at the Class LL finals last fall and helped lead the Cardinals in relay events.
“She came along very well last year,” Heller said of Guarnera. “She swam in the Opens last year in a relay and she scored a lot of points at FCIACS and state finals.”
Guiding the Cards’ diving program this season is Liv DiLascia, who is beginning her first season with the team. She replaces Kevin Thompson, who coached the squad’s divers for numerous seasons.
A 2018 Greenwich High graduate, DiLascia dove for the Cardinals and also competed on the school’s track and field team. During the summer, DiLascia coached diving at The Stanwich Club.
“For summer diving, I was really excited to embellish on my skills and take it to the varsity level,” DiLascia said. “I was on the team at Greenwich High School back in the day, so coming back as a coach is very rewarding.”
Along with Garcia, juniors Mackenzie Newi and Elizabeth Scharff are among some of the returning divers. Ava Vranos, a junior, also returns to the team after being sidelined with an injury a season ago.
“I hope everybody individually, breaks their records and I want them to be at their best for the championship meets,” DiLascia said.
Annie Bingle, a 2022 GHS graduate, led the squad’s divers last year, producing another All-America season. Bingle earned NISCA All-America honors for the fourth straight season, after finished second at both the Class LL and FCIAC finals and sixth at the State Open Championships. Bingle recently began her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is diving.
Thirteen athletes graduated from the 2022 championship team, some of whom were captains Caterina Li, Isabella Malchow and Emma Robinson. The trio contributed greatly to the Cards’ success a season ago, enjoying outstanding performances in their respective events throughout the regular season, before excelling in the championship meets.
Junior Payton Foster, sophomore Sena Bozkurt and sophomore Michelle Weissler are not competing on the team this year, as they have chosen to swim/train with their respective club teams this fall.
Foster earned NISCA All-America accolades in two individual events during the 2022 season (200 individual medley, 500 freestyle). Sofia Wang, also a junior, who was a key contributor a year ago, is going to school overseas this year.
Daisy Decker, who had a top-10 finish in the 100 freestyle at last year’s State Open, will be looked to for leadership and production in the freestyle events and in the relay races. With a new-look roster, Greenwich will look to its many first-season varsity swimmers to pace the team.
“We have tons of potential and young talent,” Heller said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I see no reason why we can’t compete at a very high level. Our focus is going to be at our best in November, so we have a lot of work to do be there. For us to be successful, we’re going to have to rely on our depth.”
“Half of the swimmers are new so it’s a very young team this year and we have a lot of talent,” Mancini said. “Even though we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, we’re still ready to bring it on.”