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The end result of 'virtual' meet between Waterford, Ledyard? Undecided

Walking up the stairs to the pool at Waterford High School on Monday afternoon, the first audible thing was the voice of Brett Arnold, coach of the Lancers' girls' swimming and diving team, speaking into a microphone.

"It's just nice something's still the same," Waterford senior Viv Martinez said with a laugh, speaking of Arnold, who was announcing the different dives being undertaken by the Lancers' Hannah Ard and Camille Caldrello. "(Arnold) always tells little jokes."

But there were more things at the pool, certainly, that were different than in any normal season.

The lack of an opposing team, for instance. The lack of an immediate final score.

Waterford swam against Ledyard, with each team looking for its first victory of the season. The results, however, including the winners of each event, had yet to be tabulated late Monday night.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meet took place at two different pools, with each team at its own home venue. Ledyard competed at Vitale Aquatic and Tennis, the VAT, which is an outdoor pool during the summer months but is enclosed by a bubble for the fall and winter. Waterford swam at its own high school pool.

The collaborative effort by the teams is what is being referred to this season as a "virtual" meet. Because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention limited the number of participants on a pool deck to 25 at the start of the fall season, the Eastern Connecticut Conference decided to hold the virtual meets so that swimming could go on as scheduled.

There is a season-ending ECC meet scheduled for Nov. 7 at East Lyme High School which will allow the top 15 swimmers on each team to compete in person.

But for now, the Colonels and the Lancers had to settle for being separated by approximately 14 miles.

"Like, kind of, you can tell there's supposed to be another team," Martinez said of the vibe Monday. "And there's just not. I feel like everyone's just trying to make the best of the situation. I appreciate everything."

At 3:10 p.m., over at the VAT, Ledyard coach Katey Kokomoor is hanging the team's banner — emblazoned with a cartoon Colonel — from the life guard's chair. The Ledyard swimmers are warming up for the meet, which is scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m.

At precisely 3:45, with one official in attendance and no spectators, Ledyard sends two 200-yard medley relay teams to the start (there are no starting blocks at the pool). Emma Cassidy, Aubrie Lozier, Katelyn Hughes and Alex Martinez-Garcia are first to finish in 2 minutes, 31.88 seconds.

There is an electricity in the air that differentiates the day from a normal practice.

"It's different than practice but it's not the same as meets in the past," Kokomoor said. "The girls are rising to the occasion well, cheering for each other. I'm very proud of these girls. They're showing an extreme inner strength. We don't have any problem with attendance this year; they want to be here.

"It's very inspiring to see these young ladies swim with such heart."

Kokomoor said that junior Maddie Gauthier, for instance, was swimming the 500 freestyle by herself recently — the only one in the pool — and took 46 seconds off her previous best time.

"That showed an inner strength," the coach said.

Kokomoor hands out two "Golden Goggles" awards following each meet, one for heart and one for spirit. On Monday, Lozier earned the goggles for heart and Carmela Welch was recognized for her spirit during the meet.

"It's definitely difficult," Ledyard's Cassidy said. "But we have our cheers. Our team gets together to make it feel like a meet. I miss the bus rides, traveling to other places. Sometimes it takes days to get the results. Sometimes we don't do it all the same day."

Ledyard, for instance, has tried to stick to its scheduled meets regardless of whether the opposing team has been able to compete. The Colonels have completed their half of meets against East Lyme and Norwich Free Academy, while those two schools have been on a coronavirus-mandated break from competition.

On Monday, Kokomoor was to send her set of results to Arnold at Waterford, who would then plug them into a results program. Ledyard also competed in yards Monday and Waterford in meters, with Arnold needing to account for that difference as he punched in the times.

At Waterford, meanwhile, the meet began at 4 p.m. with two officials needed due to the diving competitors. Caldrello, a sophomore who was second in the ECC and sixth in the Class S state championship meet last season, won the diving with a six-dive total of 225.52, a season best.

Waterford was forced to break from competing or practicing from Wednesday through Sunday due to COVID-19, with Arnold telling the Lancers that while he didn't expect them to break any records Monday due to the layoff, he still expected them to give their best effort.

"We told them go for a jog, a fast-paced walk, a bike ride. It doesn't matter. Just stay active," Arnold said. "In any sport, they feed off the crowd. We told them they're not competing in front of their family, their friends, you're conquering that black line at the bottom of the pool, you're conquering the clock."

"I came in to this meet definitely nervous because I hadn't practiced in a week," Caldrello said. "Once I started warming up, I felt confident."




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