H-K/Valley Co-Op Maintains Depth and Diversity
The Haddam-Killingworth/Valley Regional (H-K/VR) boys’ swimming and diving co-op team enters the 2022-2023 campaign this winter with a small, yet very sound and savvy squad that can produce several state-level swimmers behind a drive and desire to thrive in various events.
Last winter, H-K/VR finished 14th as a club at the Class M State Championship, with a team tally of 160 points. This followed a 9th-place performance at the SCC Championship, with a total of 312 points.
The Cougars, with Head Coach Steven Cusano, this season are composed of kids from Haddam-Killingworth, along with Valley Regional High School student-athletes. H-K maintains a small roster in terms of total numbers when it comes to dual meets, yet what the Cougars lack in depth at the surface, they more than make up for it with their skill set and selflessness towards the team.
“Things are going good so far,” said Cusano, who also coaches the Cougar Aquatic Club team. “Club swimmers play a big factor in high school swimming. We only have 10 kids on our competitive team, but we have a diverse amount of kids in terms of the different events they can compete in. With each meet, we will be able to change up our lineup for events a bit. The guys have no issues, and the practices are going well. The kids know what they have to do; there is no pouting or complaining.”
Jack Ferguson leads off the lineup as a senior and lone captain for the Cougars. As Ferguson specializes in the individual medley and breaststroke, Cusano detailed that there are lofty expectations for the Cougars’ captain in the latter of those two events.
“Jack is a four-year member of this team,” Coach Cusano said. “He shows up every day, and he is the pied piper for the team. He keeps everyone on their Ps and Qs. He communicates with the team, and he sets the tone on what to do. I do not think he will lose a breaststroke race this season. He is primed to break the school record in the event this year. With this team, it all starts with his leadership.”
Rounding out the three-man senior class slate are a tandem of swimmers in Alejandro Campo de la Vera and Joshua Colandrea. Cusano noted that both veterans have the intangibles to be additional pillars of leadership out of the water and success in it.
“Both of them are great leaders and play integral roles for me as a coach. They both help coordinate team events as well,” Cusano said. “AJ [Alejandro] is a good worker and butterfly swimmer. Joshua has swam only one full calendar year. I cannot quantify the strides he has made; he has gone from not swimming to trying to figure out which Division 2 or 3 school he will swim for in college. He’s our go-to freestyle swimmer.”
A sophomore duo of Tristan Smith and Jackson Smith will also look to figure into being pivotal pieces towards H-K/VR’s success. Cusano praised the pair for “stepping up and doing a very good job.”
The Cougars, who finished 4-6 overall last winter, will swim the competitive waters of the SCC in the Division II lane, alongside the likes of Lyman Hall-Coginchaug, Notre Dame-West Haven, Hamden, Foran-Law, Shelton, West Haven, and Sheehan. Despite sporting only 10 on the competitive roster for the regular-season dual meets, the Cougars feel strongly that they can vie for the division prize.
“We have 10 teams on the competitive roster, so it will be difficult to win dual meets,” Cusano said. “But we have a good chance to win Division II in the SCC this year. We are that team to beat in Division II.”
Speaking more to the dual-meet portion of the campaign, Cusano is not sweating any win-loss column projections. He is well aware it is about quality over quantity while traversing the choppy and competitive waters of the SCC.
“We start our season with Fairfield Prep, Xavier, and Amity in Division I of the SCC, but then our schedule lightens up,” said Cusano, whose club is in its second year as a SCC member. “Xavier is in the same boat as us with top-end talent and small numbers. We will be able to compete with them, which would be huge for our program. We have the people to compete with the teams in our division. I do not stress the dual meets. We will get our confidence going forward, and we will already be battle-tested come postseason time.”
The Cougars are looking to continue to grow their sound reputation around the league and the state this season. Lastly, as they look to push through a majority of their roster into the Class M State Championship, they never go into a competition feeling that they are overmatched.
“We want to keep getting this co-op team more recognition; they are putting in the work,” said Coach Cusano. “If we could get seven guys into states, it would be impressive. We go to face the highest competition, and when we go to compete, it’s our mentality that it is all about one swimmer against one swimmer and not about the size of either team.”
Cusano is in his third campaign as the Cougars’ head coach this winter, and he is being assisted by Kate Meyer in the pool. Within SCC Division II last year, H-K/VR finished with a divisional mark of 4-3–good enough for a 4th-place showing.
The Cougars’ full roster is comprised of H-K members in sophomore Tyler Anderson, freshman Joseph Breton, Campo de la Vera, Colandrea, Ferguson, sophomore Riley Schipritt, sophomore Jackson Smith, freshman Kellen Thompson; and then Valley Regional swimmers in sophomore Tristan Smith, senior Onno Knoop, and freshman Lucca Giordano.
H-K/VR Boys’ Swimming and Diving Co-Op 2022-2023 Regular Season Schedule
Wednesday, Dec. 21: vs. Fairfield Prep at 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 27: vs. Xavier at 10 a.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 3: at Amity at Orange Community Center Pool at 6:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 17: at West Haven at 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 24: at Foran-Law at Foran at 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 31: vs. Notre Dame-West Haven at 4 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 3: at Sheehan at 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 7: at Lyman Hall-Coginchaug at Sheehan at 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 14: vs. Shelton at 4 p.m.