A new but familiar face will lead the Cony Rams girls swimming team this winter.

Bob Johnston has come out of retirement to take over the program for Jon Millett, who after 22 seasons leading the Rams resigned from coaching to become the school’s athletic director.

Johnston is no stranger to swimming in central Maine — he led the Waterville program for 21 seasons before retiring two years ago. He also coached the Cony girls swimming team in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“It’s kind of in my blood. Jon was hitting me pretty hard to come back to coaching,” Johnston said.

Erskine’s Eleanor Brown swims the 500-meter freestyle during the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B meet last season at the Bath Area Family YMCA. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

He will inherit a strong program as the Cony girls narrowly lost out on a third consecutive Class A title last February, falling to Bangor by only 13 points in the state finals.

“A solid group of veteran swimmers should help the team stay near the top of the field in Class A swimming. A Dec. 17 against the state champion Bangor girls at the (Kennebec Valley) YMCA will be a good test for the team.”

Despite losing multi-state champion Gabby Low to graduation, the Rams return plenty of strong talent this season.

Senior Cecilia Guadalupi looks to defend her Class A state championships in the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle events. As a freshman, Emma Thomas won the Class A 200 freestyle title by over two seconds (1:57.67). She also took second in the 500 freestyle at that meet. Her classmate, Lunden Dinkel finished second in the 100 breaststroke.

Guadalupi, who recently committed to swim for Div. 2 Hillsdale College in Michigan, is just as optimistic as her coach.

“We are coming back with a fight in our eyes this year and want to see if we can win back our title.”

The Cony boys lost a group of talented seniors from a season ago but will look to sophomore Cade Parker (seventh in Class A 50 freestyle and 12th in 100 freestyle) and senior Jacob Mills (12th in the 100 butterfly in Class A) for leadership and points this winter.

The top area boys swimmer could just be Messalonskee’s Martin Guarnieri.

The Eagles senior took fourth place in the Class A 200 individual medley finals and fifth overall in the 100 breaststroke event.

“This kid is an outstanding person and swimmer. He is very technical and likes to work at shaving off time,” said Messalonskee coach Beth Prelgovisk.

“My big goal this season is to break the school 100 breaststroke record,” Guarnieri added.

The combined Waterville-Winslow girls team enjyed a solid seventh place showing in last season’s Class A meet, and should be strong again.

The team will be led by a pair of sophomores who turned in strong freshmen seasons. Ebba Heaton-Jones placed third in a fast 100 freestyle finals that Guadalupi won, to go along with an eighth-place showing in the 50 freestyle event. Classmate Emma Farnham took seventh in Class A in the 200 individual medley.

The Waterville-Winslow boys will look to senior Eric Booth for leadership. Booth finished sixth place in the 200 individual relay and eighth in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley Class A finals a year ago.

“He’s starting pretty strong and is going to be chasing a lot of Winslow records again this year,” said coach Justin Giroux.

Rob Pekins enters his 21st season coaching the combined Gardiner/Hall-Dale program and is more optimistic than he has been in a while — and for good reason.

“We have a lot of hidden talent and with big numbers again this year we will show up to every meet and surprise the league. My teams are gritty and dig deep,” said Pekins.

The Gardiner/Hall-Dale girls will be led by seniors Diane Tran, Hannah Foust and Georgia Warren, as well as well-rounded strong sophomores Renee Molesworth, Kate Claveau and Grace Milkin. Three new swimmers Olivia Pekins, Alex Hembree and Brady Gardner should also score needed points as well.

The Erskine girls will be led by senior Eleanor Brown, who qualified for the Class B championship meet in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle events. The Eagles will also look to senior Julia Basham and sophomore AnnaLee Rogers, who qualified for the Class B 200 freestyle relay finals last season.

Lawrence also boasts two excellent swimmers in the sister-brother combination of junior Garbriella Pierce (11th in Class A 200 freestyle) and sophomore Nate Pierce (14th in Class A 200 freestyle).

“They are a joy to coach,” says Prelgovisk, who coaches the Lawrence and Messalonskee programs.

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