AUGUSTA — Imagine you’re in high school and taking an exam. Only you’re the lone student in the classroom. And several dozen people are staring at you intently.

That’s the situation Cony swimmer Jameson Russell faced on Jan. 5 at the Kennebec Valley YMCA.

With only eight boys total representing host Cony and visiting Gardiner/Hall-Dale, Russell had the “honor” of swimming the 100-yard butterfly alone while teammates, rivals and fans looked on. The senior completed the event in 1 minute, 1.29 seconds — a few seconds off from his time that placed him sixth at last year’s Class A state meet, but still respectable.

How do you race against yourself and still succeed?

“You can try (self-motivation) sometimes,” Russell said afterward, “but I feel like the best way to just imagine a bear chasing you or something.”

Luckily, Russell’s situation is the exception and not the rule. Both Cony and Gardiner/Hall-Dale have benefitted from the addition of several young swimmers, ensuring that future meets will have fewer one-person events.


“It’s nice to see the team grow,” said Russell, who also won the 100 backstroke Friday in 1:06.20. “My first year it was tiny, and now it’s actually getting big and taking up a full pool at practice. It’s just nice to see it grow and have people around. It raises the energy.”

Freshman Emily Foster is one of the new Rams who has made a splash this winter. Foster won the 500-yard freestyle Friday in 6:20.63, good enough to qualify for next month’s Class A championships in Brunswick.

“That was a good swim for her,” Cony coach Bob Johnston said. 

Foster also was part of the winning 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams.

Seven Cony girls are new to the sport this season, Johnston said.

Cony sophomore Reid DeJongh competes in the 500-yard freestyle during a Jan. 5 meet at the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I’ve been teaching them to swim in freestyle, and they’ll swim in the shorter races right now, so it works out pretty well,” he said. “The girls are really helping those kids, too. They come out and work one-on-one with them, work on flip turns, things like that.”


Although Russell admitted it’s hard to recruit new athletes, the boys side appears to be in good hands. Freshman Raiden Ramkissoon won the 100 freestyle Friday in 57.12 seconds, a time that would have just missed the top 10 at last year’s state meet.

Meanwhile, Rams sophomore Mateo Hardy captured the 50 freestyle in 28.77 seconds — not bad for someone who didn’t take up the sport until last year. When he started, Johnston said, all he could do was the 50 and 100 freestyle, but now he’s worked to add the breaststroke and butterfly to his repertoire.

“He worked hard over the summer, he swam a fair amount tog get himself into shape,” Johnston said. “He’s been one of the big surprises for the boys.”

Another star of Cony’s youth movement is sophomore Reid DeJongh, who won the boys 200 free and 500 free.

Gardiner/Hall-Dale is not lacking for young talent, either, as a pair of sophomores accounted for the Tigers’ two victories Friday. Sophomore Jessie Willey captured the 100 breaststroke in 1:15.91, four seconds ahead of the runner-up and one-hundredth of a second better than her eighth-place time at last year’s Class B state meet. Classmate Addison Pollis took the 200 individual medley in 2:28.48, and freshman Georgiana McCamish was second to Cony star Addison Burnham in the 100 backstroke.

Teammates cheer as, from left, Gardiner/Hall-Dale’s Addison Pollis, Cony’s Addison Burnham and Erskine Academy’s AJ Jarosz do butterfly laps in the 200-yard individual medley during a Jan. 5 meet at the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Willey, who attends Hall-Dale, also has filled in at the 100 butterfly and turned in a state meet-qualifying time earlier this season, said coach Rob Pekins, whose team is 4-0 this season against Class B competition.


The boys, meanwhile, have had some help from sophomore Ben Dillingham and freshman Jackson Gray, who — stop if you’ve heard this before — are new to the sport. With only two other boys on the G/H-D team, they have hit the pool immediately in both individual and relay events.

“(They) have picked up on their speed and their flip turns,” Pekins said. “(They) couldn’t swim to finish a whole length the first couple weeks of practice, and now they’re flying up and down the pool. I’m very happy with that.”

And if the young swimmers hold their end of the bargain, those solo races could become a distant memory, like those high school exams.

“It’s been really good, really fun,” Russell said. “We have a lot of fast kids, so everything’s gone smoothly.”

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