Cony coach Bob Johnston talks to Jack Begin during a meet last season at the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Area swim coaches were well aware the 2020-2021 season was going to be different during the coronavirus pandemic.

Practices are different — squads are often broken up into groups to keep numbers down — and so, too, are the meets.

Gone, at least for this winter, are the traditional meets with competitors from different schools lined up next to each other. Instead, teams that are allowed to compete do so in virtual meets.

Finding competition is another challenge as several schools are in counties designated yellow by the state, meaning athletics are often paused.

Cony and Waterville/Winslow have already had to adjust their schedules.

“We were supposed to swim (last week) against Messalonskee, but they were canceled out because of COVID,” Cony coach Bob Johnston said. “Luckily, (Cony athletic director Jon Millett) found that Mt. Ararat had an opening (in the schedule). This week, we’re supposed to have swum Brunswick, but they’re out — their county is yellow, Cumberland County — so Jon found us a meet, and we’re going to swim last year’s Class B champions, (Mount Desert Island). Both teams will swim at some point Friday.”

“We were supposed to have a meet last Friday, but Messalonskee went remote for two weeks, and we went remote just for Friday,” Waterville/Winslow coach Lindsay Bates added. “They did the deep clean for Waterville schools. That was going to be our first one. We’re supposed to have one this Friday (against Erskine), knock on wood it will happen. Throughout the next few weeks, either on a Wednesday or a Friday, our meets will be within our practice time.”

In virtual meets, each team will compete in their own home pool and record times in each event. The opposition will do the same thing, in its own home pool. Times will then be compared after the “races” to determine winners. In this scenario, swimmers are essentially competing against themselves, instead of opponents in a neighboring lane.

Gardiner/Hall-Dale coach Rob Pekins said last month the meets might be beneficial to new swimmers.

“For those kids that are really competitors, it will be tough,” said Pekins. “You don’t have someone from another team that’s just as fast or a little faster, hungry for your time, trying to catch you. That will be tough. But the kids who are coming in, and the kids who have never tried the sport, this will be a good season for them. The pool area won’t be as loud. The anxiety won’t be there, because it’s just going to be you and your teammates. I’ve got a lot of freshman coming in, and I’ve got a lot of upperclassmen who are going to try this for the first time. This is a perfect season for them to try to get in there. Building on that, those kids that have always been competitive, those kids have a chance, instead of worrying about beating the kid in the next lane, here’s your chance to build up their team and really concentrate on helping their other teams get better.”

The season also features some coaching changes. Bates, who was previously an assistant under Justin Giroux, will coach Waterville/Winslow. A Waterville alum, Bates swam for Johnston during his coaching tenure at Waterville and still counts Johnston as a mentor and advisor.

“Another cool thing that’s happening this year is Ruth Jones, who used to be his assistant that worked with him — and I swam for both of them during my four years (at Waterville) — Ruth came back this year and is my assistant coach,” she said. “Talk about things coming full circle, it’s pretty neat.”

At Messalonskee, assistant coach Tom Sheridan is taking over the program from Beth Prelgovisk for the season. Sheridan coaches the varsity boys soccer and boys lacrosse programs at Messalonskee.

“We’re excited to get going,” Sheridan said last month in preparation for the season. “I think we’re around 16 boys and 16 girls.”

Cony’s Lunden Dinkel swims the 100 breaststroke during the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship meet last season in Bath. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

While Messalonskee carries a large team this season, Cony and Waterville/Winslow are fielding slightly smaller than normal squads. The Rams are carrying 15 swimmers, while Waterville/Winslow has 10. There’s no lack of talent on either team, in spite of those numbers. The Cony girls team once again returns strong talent, with the return of juniors Emma Crosby (a member of both the 200-meter medley relay and 200 free relay teams that captured Class A titles last year) and Lunden Dinkel (fourth in the 100 fly, second in the 100 breaststroke, member of 200 medley relay and 200 free relay teams at Class A meet). The team will also get an added boost from the Jorgensens — Tessa and Amanda — who join the squad in their senior season.

“This year they’ve come back, and they’re very good swimmers,” Johnston said. “Amanda is a really good freestyler, any distance freestyler. Tessa is all over the board. She’s a good flyer, a good (individual medley swimmer). And a freestyler. I can put them pretty much anywhere.”

Johnston added he has high expectations for two freshman swimmers — Addison Burnham on the girls side, and Jameson Russell on the boys side. Adding to the output for the Cony boys will be sophomore Tyler Foster and senior Jack Begin.

The Waterville/Winslow girls are led by Emma Farnham, who is expected to break the school record in the 50 free this week. The boys will be led by Alex Renaud and Andrew Turlo

“We’ve got a little bit smaller of a group this year as far as the team goes,” Bates said. “But all the kids are very dedicated and is a great group to work with, even under the conditions that we’re in, for sure.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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