Messalonskee’s Jadyn Arnold swims the 100-yard butterfly during the KVAC A championships last season at the Bath YMCA. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

After a season behind closed doors in 2020-21, spectators returning to pool decks returned to see a host of talented swimmers in central Maine a season ago.

Well, as a new high school swim season dawns, even more of the pre-2020 status quo is back — and so are the majority of the swimmers who turned in spectacular seasons in the area.

Many of the faces who made last winter a promising one are set to build on that in 2022-23. That, along with the arrivals of several newcomers, has set the stage for a strong swim season ahead throughout central Maine.

“I think it’s the junior class from last year across the board in this area that has been very competitive,” said Erskine Academy head coach Susan Burke. “That group just has the talent, and now, they’re all seniors.”

Among the top central Maine teams last year was the Gardiner/Hall-Dale girls squad, which had both talent and depth with a roster of 18 strong. Led by seniors Grace Milliken and Renee Molesworth, juniors Cassidy Clark and Livi Pekins and freshman Caylyn Pekins, the Tigers went 8-1 in the regular season.

Even with Milliken and Molesworth gone, Gardiner/Hall-Dale is poised to fare just as well, if not better in 2022-23. The Tigers’ top returnees can cover the breaststroke and individual medley (Livi Pekins), freestyle (Caylyn Pekins) and backstroke (Clark), and with another roster of 18 girls, they can also assemble some solid relay teams.


“That’s the nice thing about having so many girls that can swim really well,” said head coach Rob Pekins, who is also the father of the both Pekins girls. “They’re very talented, and I can mix and match any of them with those three and have a good shot at breaking records.”

Among the swimmers set to add to the Gardiner/Hall-Dale girls’ repertoire this year is freshman Addison Pollis, a standout from the Kennebec Valley YMCA program. The Tigers also add junior foreign-exchange student Amelia Knapik, a nationally ranked swimmer in Poland, as well as Abigail Bourgoin and Hailey Buttery, who are back swimming after a year off in 2021-22.

“I’ve been swimming with Addison for a long time, and she’s really good at backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle,” Livi Pekins said. “I haven’t swam with the foreign-exchange girls, but I know they’re really good, too. We have a lot of girls who are advanced and have been training to swim at this level.”

On the boys side, Gardiner/Hall-Dale sports a five-swimmer roster of three seniors (Brady Gardner, Alex Hembree, William Leach) and two freshmen (Luke Carr, Ian Dickson). Hembree, a captain, impressed his coach last year as he posted top-five finishes in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke in the KVAC Class B meet.

Cony’s Annabelle Orth swims the 100-yard butterfly during the KVAC A championships last season at the Bath YMCA. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Waterville/Winslow boys return a KVAC Class B champ in Andrew Turlo, who won the 100 breaststroke crown a year ago and took third in the 200 IM. Addison and Sam Bernier are also top returnees for the Purple Panthers and will give the team a strong relay quartet alongside Turlo and Cormac Wilcox.

The Waterville/Winslow girls squad has some rebuilding work to do after the losses of Elza Dubrowka and reigning KVAC Swimmer of the Meet Emma Farnham. The Purple Panthers’ top returning swimmer is Robyn Brochu, who claimed fourth place in the 50 freestyle.


The Erskine girls have lost Emma Fortin and Grace Kelso but return arguably their top swimmer in Stephanie Kumnick, who finished third in the 100 breaststroke in the KVAC championships. The Eagles also bring back Anna “A.J.” Jarosz, who competes alongside Kumnick for the local YMCA team.

“Stephanie broke the school record (in the 100 breaststroke), and this year, she’s looking to drop her time even more,” Burke said. “A.J. got injured for us last year, so she couldn’t swim with us for half the season. We’re excited to have her back and for our new swimmers that have really caught on.”

In Class A, Cony brings back one of the state’s best swimmers in sophomore Emily Kennard, the KVAC A champion in the 200 free and 100 backstroke and the runner-up in the 100 and 200 frees at states. Also returning for the Rams is Annabelle Orth, who teamed up with Kennard to deliver Cony dominant relay wins all season.

The Cony boys had just three swimmers last year, two of which (Jameson Russell and Tyler Foster) are back for the Rams in 2022-23. With two freshmen (Reid Dejongh and Matteo Hardy) joining the mix, Cony will be able to compete in relays this season after being unable to do so the past two years.

Gardiner/Hall-Dale’s Livi Pekins competes in the 200-yard individual medley at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B championships on Feb. 7, 2022 in Bath. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“The boys will get to swim four events in a meet instead of being limited to the two individual events (with the added numbers),” said Cony head coach Bob Johnston. “I’m also excited for the girls team; we have a small but solid group of talented swimmers who should compete with the top Class A teams at conference and state meets.”

Messalonskee will also boast a strong boys team in Class A with KVAC 100 backstroke champ Jadyn Arnold and 500 free runner-up Sean McCafferty back in the pool. James Branaugh of the Nokomis boys also returns after winning the KVAC 200 free in the class and claiming second place in the 50 free.

Conference-wide, the Camden Hills girls and Edward Little/Leavitt boys will look to defend their KVAC Class A championships after historic seasons. In Class B, Rob Pekins expects both reigning boys and girls champions Morse to challenge for titles.

“Morse and (Waterville/Winslow) always have good teams, and they’ll be tough,” Pekins said. “Our schedule mixes and matches with both A and B teams, so we’ll get some good challenges.”

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