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Will McCleery took first place in the 50 freestyle for the North Haven boys’ swimming and diving team at this year’s Class M State Championship. Will, a junior, also helped the Indians finish with an overall record of 7-4 for the regular season. (Photo courtesy of Will McCleery )
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Will McCleery put together an excellent junior season in the pool for North Haven boys’ swimming and diving squad this winter. From a team perspective, Will helped the Indians turn in one of their best campaigns in recent memory behind an overall record of 7-4 that included a mark of 6-1 in SCC Division II. However, Will also achieved a major individual feat when he claimed first place in the 50 freestyle at the Class M State Championship with a lifetime-best mark of 22.18 seconds, defeating New Fairfield’s Paul Riter by six one-hundredths of a second to take the title.
The most surprising aspect of Will’s accomplishment is that the 50 freestyle isn’t even his primary event.
“What happened was I was swimming the 500 free, 200 medley relay, and 100 back, which are all right in a row at meets, so coach decided to put me in the 50 since it’s later in the meet,” says Will. “I’m a strong sprinter, so I progressed a lot and am grateful for the opportunity, because I showed a lot of improvement. I was really surprised winning the whole thing and having as good a year as I did in the event. It was definitely a new thing for me, and I was excited to swim it. I was nervous, but I progressed well into the role of the 50 guy.”
Indians’ Head Coach Martha Phelan was impressed with how hard Will worked in order to have such a successful season. Phelan also notes that Will is a selfless swimmer who is quick to give credit to his teammates and coaches.
“I couldn’t be happier for him, because he sprints every set in practice. He has no hot and cold. He has one speed, and it’s all-out. That’s how he trains...He can’t wait to get back in the water. Someone like Will makes me want to be a better coach,” Phelan says. “He didn’t take any credit for his wins or any of his success. He turned it all back to me. When you hear that from a young person, it really energizes me that someone would be humble enough to say that and recognize we work hand in hand.”
Even with his recent victory in the 50 freestyle, Will prefers swimming the distance events with North Haven. Will’s trademark race is the 500 freestyle, and he wants to get his time below the five-minute mark next season. Although the 50 and 500 are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, Will says that swimming both events proved highly beneficial to him this year. Will posted a lifetime-best time of 5:01.09 in the 500 freestyle, while placing 10th at the Class M State Championship.
“I think one helped the other. Distance helped perfect my technique. In the 50, every stroke counts, so that was really helpful,” says Will, who also advanced to the State Open Championship in the 50 freestyle. “A strong finish was the main thing I learned from distance that has helped me in other short swims.”
Will loves being a member of the North Haven swimming family. Will says there was great energy on the team throughout the season, and he’s eager to lead the Indians as one of their captains as a senior.
“The team culture is just great. It’s always been that way since freshman year. The energy was tremendous. It’s a great attitude and great to be a part of it,” Will says. “I’m new [to being a captain], but it gives me a chance to have a positive influence on the team. I’m excited to enter this role.”
Looking ahead to next season, Will wants to help North Haven win the SCC Division II title, and he also wants to make it back to the State Open in the 50 freestyle. Will also believes that his 200 freestyle relay team can break the school record. Will and his cohorts—John Stoeffler, Tanner Powell, and Carlo Frunzio—finished this season just two seconds shy of the record, and they’re all coming back in 2019. Will was also an All-SCC Academic honoree this season, and he wants to repeat that distinction in his senior year at North Haven.
“That’s an important designation, so I want to stay on that,” Will says. “This is such a great time. Going to Opens was such an honor, and I hope to continue that success. I’m already excited for next year.”
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