The swimmers gathered around head coach Kyle Bauer on Tuesday as he gave warm-up instructions.

“This is not very hard — this is just a lot of swimming, so I want you to go at a nice, steady pace,” he said.

The 11 boys and girls, ages 8 to 14, took their places at the head of the 25-yard, six-lane indoor pool at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville.

Joseph Branaugh, 11, stepped onto the starting block, bent into position and dove off, slicing through the water like a porpoise, swimming freestyle up the lane and back, eight times.

“He’s 11 and he’s faster than most of our high school students,” Bauer said. “His 500 freestyle, which is 20 lengths of the pool, is fourth in Maine history. He’s really fast.”

Bauer is head coach of the Waterville Area YMCA’s Mid-Maine Dolphins team, which will compete April 13-16 with those from all over the country at the International  Swim Coach Association’s Elite Showcase Classic in St. Petersburg, Florida. This year, 11 swimmers from the Dolphins team will take part — the largest number ever to compete at nationals. The team set five mixed relay state records and three individual state records this season. Caden LaPlante, 11, of Fairfield, set three individual state records in the ages 9-10 category.


“A lot of these kids here are very self-motivated and if I give them something challenging to do, they get right to it,” Bauer said. “They like to push each other. They’re so competitive.”

The youngest swimmer is Luke Strahorn, 8; the oldest, Hayden Averill, is 14. Bauer, 25, and head coach for four years, was named Swim Coach of the Year in the YMCA swimming league — the first time a Mid-Maine Dolphins coach has received the award. He coaches the young Dolphins five days a week and sometimes six, for an hour and 45 minutes each time. The team’s assistant coach, Colin Vidas, was named USA National Head Coach of Down Syndrome Swimming and his team will compete soon at the Special Olympics World.

Branaugh climbed out of the pool Tuesday and stopped to chat. He started swimming when he was 2 in Colorado where he lived until moving with his family to Newport three years ago, he said. At 7 and 8, he was swimming competitively.

Waterville Area YMCA’s Mid-Maine Dolphins swimmer Caden LaPlante, 11, swims the butterfly during a team practice Tuesday at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville. The 11-member Dolphins team is preparing for a national competition in Florida. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“I was probably good at it,” he acknowledged. “I had a friend and we raced together and we were friend rivals. I would win trophies and medals and ribbons. I was pretty fast for my age. There were a couple of people who were faster.”

The home-schooled Branaugh aspires to be a marine biologist. And he loves swimming.

“I like the feel of the water. I like the competitiveness to it. I like trying to go fast. I think it’s a good sport.”


This will be his first national competition and he is excited and confident, for the most part.

“I am a little bit nervous because it’s big meet and there’s a lot of fast kids. It’s like, how will I do? Will I do well?”

The Dolphins booster group will hold a fundraiser from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Mainely Brews in downtown Waterville, with proceeds to be used for the Florida trip.

The team has been in existence at least 60 years. Last weekend, the 10 and younger athletes finished first at the Maine USA Swimming Winter Championships held in Bath. At the YMCA state meet three weekends ago, the team placed fifth overall out of 14 teams and seventh out of 17 teams at the USA Winter Championships. Those were the highest places the Dolphins ever attained, according to Bauer.

Besides Branaugh, Averill, Strahorn, LaPlante and LaPlante’s sister, Elsa LaPlante, 9, team members heading to the nationals are Grace Ireland, 12, Chloe Masse, 13, Isabella Lebovitz, 10, Madelyn Lockwood, 9, Ian Lane, 10, and Stephen Dyer, 10.

“I tell everybody this: We hit the talent jackpot,” Bauer said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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