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The Hand girls’ swimming and diving team captured its first state title by coming in first place at the Class M State Championship on Nov. 13 at Wesleyan University. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Kayla Mendonca won the 100 backstroke with a meet record time of 58.02 seconds to help the Tigers take first place as a squad at last week’s Class M State Championship. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
It all came down to the final moments for the Hand girls’ swimming and diving squad at the Class M State Championship. In the face of major drama and high stakes, the Tigers stepped up in the clutch and made history by claiming the program’s first state title.
The Tigers were one of 23 teams vying for a state crown when the Class M State Championship took place at Wesleyan University on Nov. 13. Entering the final event of the evening, Hand held a 5.5-point lead over North Haven for the top spot in the standings. Thanks to a first-place finish from Hand’s 400 freestyle relay team of juniors Ruby Redlich, Erin Reilly, Kayla Mendonca, and sophomore Ava Keane, the Tigers cemented their victory and secured their first state championship by scoring 588.8 points at the Class M meet. North Haven scored 569 points and finished as the runner-up.
“This was an incredible experience. It really showed all our hard work paid off, and it was cool to be part of,” said Keane. “The energy was super high for the meet, and the last relay was nerve-racking. But having our whole team behind us got us going, and we were able to pull ourselves together.”
Hand’s 400 freestyle relay finished with a time of 3:38.68 to defeat second-place Brookfield (3:38.96) by less than a second. Along with swimming on that relay, Mendonca took first place in the 100 backstroke with a time of 58.02 seconds to not only defeat Torrington’s Julia McCarthy (59.59), but also break the Class M record of 58.19 seconds in the event. Mendonca had previously won the backstroke with a meet-record time of 57.36 seconds at the SCC Championship on Nov. 1.
“The whole team was really excited to win this title, and it was great for the team to come together and work for it. We knew it would be really close, and it’s just nice to achieve something we were hoping for,” said Mendonca, who later placed third in the backstroke at the State Open Championship. “Throughout the meet, we were checking the team scores, and we were neck and neck with North Haven, so we were excited when it came down to the relay. We knew what we had to do to get first, and it felt unreal afterwards.”
The Tigers’ 200 medley relay of Mendonca, sophomore Ava Dougherty, Reilly, and Keane came in third place with a time of 1:53.30 at the Class M meet. The 200 freestyle relay featuring Redlich, sophomore Emma Ruffo, and freshmen Abbigail Chemacki and Kacie Wines finished fifth with a time of 1:47.06 for Head Coach Jen Lyman’s squad.
“We’re overjoyed with excitement. I’ve seen a lot of strong teams come through this program. This team took advantage of the opportunity with a great work ethic,” said Lyman. “We were surprised it was a five-point advantage to us going into the final event, because we knew North Haven was strong in [the preceding event, the 100 breaststroke], but those four girls have been swimming this relay all season. They followed suit and raced all the way to the finish.”
Additionally for Hand, Redlich finished as the runner-up in the 100 freestyle with a time of 53.84, while Keane placed third at 55.70. Reilly finished eighth (56.49), and freshman Catherine Arrandale came in 20th place (59.56) in the event.
“We knew it would be tough, but we were prepared to give everything we had,” Reilly said. “The support the team had for each throughout the meet was encouraging. During the last relay, I could see the rest of the team at the end of our lane, cheering the entire time, and even heard the parents celebrating when we brought it home.”
In the 200 freestyle, Redlich came in fourth place (1:57.87), Chemacki took sixth (1:59.65), Wines placed 19th (2:06.82) and Arrandale finished 22nd (2:09.53). Mendonca finished fourth for the 200 individual medley (2:12.67), while senior co-captain Gabby Wira finished 12th (2:21.58). Ruffo placed 14th (2:21.78) in the event, and Dougherty finished 19th (2:25.22). In the 50 freestyle, Wines finished 20th (27.39) for Hand.
Also at the meet, Chemacki finished third (5:14.05) in the 500 freestyle for the Tigers. Ruffo was 10th (5:34.68), senior co-captain Samantha Tuveson came in 13th (5:36.74), and sophomore Alexa Betts finished in 20th (5:45.67). For the 100 backstroke, Reilly finished fourth (1:10.23), Keane placed seventh (1:02.94), and sophomore Sophia Cadematori took 10th (1:04.52). In the 100 breaststroke, Dougherty came in seventh place (1:11.11), while Wira finished 16th (1:15.61). In the 100 butterfly, Cadematori finished 22nd with a time of 1:06.48.
Previously, senior Julia Bloomfield finished in 14th place with a score of 296.15 points the Class M Diving State Championship at Bulkeley High School on Nov. 7.
Making the All-State Team for the Tigers by virtue of their performances at the state meet were Mendonca for the 100 backstroke, Redlich and Keane in the 100 freestyle, Chemacki in the 500 freestyle, and the 400 freestyle relay team of Redlich, Reilly, Keane, and Mendonca.
The Tigers went on to finish in 14th place with 123 points at the State Open Championship that was held at Yale University on Nov. 17. Mendonca finished third for the 100 backstroke with a time of 57.25 seconds at the meet. She also placed 15th in the 200 individual medley at 2:12.48. The Tigers' 400 freestyle relay came in 10th place (3:40.20), and their 200 medley relay finished 15th (1:52.98). Chemacki finished 14th for the 500 freestyle (5:11.76), while Redlich placed 19th in the 100 freestyle (54.11) and 24th in the 200 freestyle (1:58.17). Huminski came in 18th place with a score of 384.85 points at the State Open Diving Championship at Middletown High School on Nov. 16.
Entering the 2018 campaign, Coach Lyman thought that Hand would be in the conversation for a top showing at states this year. As the meet drew closer, Lyman grew more and more confident that the Tigers had a chance to do something special as long as they continued adhering to their season-long creed.
“I knew originally we could be in the running for the top six with the potential to make it into the top three. We have great respect to those other teams in the top six. We knew it would be tough win North Haven. We finished ahead of them at SCCs, but they beat use during the regular season. After the [Class M Qualifying meet], I knew had a shot at second or first,” Lyman said. “We had a great group of girls that rallied and kept our motto of ‘Together Everyone Achieves More,’ because it was a team effort. If we had one person less for states, then we’d be having a different conversation.”
From the Sidelines
The athletes who competed for the Tigers at the Class M State Championship were senior captains Sammy Tuveson and Gabby Wira; juniors Kayla Mendonca, Ruby Redlich, and Erin Reilly; sophomores Alexa Betts, Sophie Cadematori, Ava Dougherty, Ava Keane, and Emma Ruffo; and freshmen Catherine Arrandale, Abbi Chemacki, and Kacie Wines.
Hand Coach Jen Lyman is assisted by Christina Forristall.
Behind Hand and North Haven, rounding out the top-10 finishers at the Class M State Championship were third-place Brookfield (461 points), followed by East Lyme (450.5), Mercy (353), Barlow (310), Branford (298), Masuk (294), Windsor Locks-Ellington-East Granby (263), and Foran (200).
Hand’s previous best finish at states came in 2004, when the Tigers were the runner-up to Branford at the Class M State Championship.