Sweeney Helps the Tigers Swim to State Gold
Grace Sweeney proved one of the most dependable athletes for the Hand girls’ swimming and diving squad this fall. In her first season with the team, Grace, a senior, earned All-State honors in two events while helping the Tigers claim the Class M state championship in 2021.
Grace made All-State in both the 100 butterfly and the 500 freestyle for Hand as a senior, setting a school record for the butterfly. Grace, who transferred from Old Saybrook to Hand for her senior year, has been swimming for the past 11 years, and she’s always had a passion for the water.
“I began swimming at age six for a local summer league, because my mom was trying to find ways for me to burn off all my energy,” says Grace. “From the start, I loved being in the water and, as an energetic child, swimming was the perfect fit for me.”
Grace took first place in the 100 butterfly by swimming a time of 58.30 seconds at the Class M State Championship meet. She also finished second in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:11.63. On top of that, Grace competed for Hand’s 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays that both finished in second place.
Grace’s success as a swimmer stems from her tremendous dedication in the pool. Grace spends many hours perfecting her techniques, and she saw those efforts pay off during Hand’s championship meets this year.
“I take each set one thing at a time and always give 100 percent to everything we do. In swimming, every detail matters. Therefore, I always try to think about little technical details to improve my races,” Grace says. “For instance, every time we do butterfly, I always focus on my underwater kicks. I try to do eight kicks off of each wall with as much power as possible to help improve my underwaters while racing. Focusing on the little things can make a challenge set more fun, because there is always room for improvement.”
Grace’s dedication to swimming was more evident than ever when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. Every pool in the state of Connecticut was closed, so Grace transitioned to running, then began swimming in Long Island Sound when the weather improved.
“I was very worried when the pandemic hit about how I would train and compete. Since pools were closed, I began running every day. I ran a minimum of four miles a day, along with intense cross training to try and stay in shape,” says Grace. “As the weather got warmer, I swam in Long Island Sound with my teammate Kacie Wines. I also used a tether cord and swam in a makeshift pool in my backyard until pools reopened and practice could finally resume.”
Grace finished off her senior season by competing at the State Open, where she set a school record for Hand in the 100-yard butterfly. Grace swam a time of 57.51 to take seventh place in the butterfly and break Kristen Frost’s school record in the event.
Head Coach Jen Lyman felt thrilled to see Grace break the record and says the senior made crucial contributions for the Tigers in a variety of events all season long.
“Grace is one that the team can rely on in a meet with any event. Her commitment with the sport outside of the season has been a great reason of why we can rely on her” Lyman says. “Grace’s humbleness, competitive edge, and sportsmanship is what makes her team and opponents cheer her on.”
Grace credits Coach Lyman for helping her make strides in the water and calls her one of the most influential people in her life.
“Coach Lyman is amazing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She pushes me every day to be the best I can be and is always so positive on the pool deck,” says Grace. “Our relationship is one of a kind. It’s truly something so special. She has taught me so many skills that I will cherish forever. She’s amazing.”
Grace will continue her swimming career in college after she graduates from Hand. While she isn’t certain about what school she will be attending, Grace knows that she’s going to compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics.
“I will definitely be swimming Division I in college next year,” Grace says. “But I’m not ready to announce where I will be committing to just yet.”