FALL PREVIEW Staples girls swim team motivated to contend
Throughout the years, numbers haven't been an issue for Staples High's girls swim team. Averaging 60 or so participants each season, longtime head coach Mike Laux never had a reason to trim down the roster.
Last season, interest was exceedingly high as the varsity and junior varsity teams totaled 84 swimmers.
"We've got a limited window to try to get them in shape," the 16th-year coach said, referring to a rather crowded pool.
This preseason, word about impending cuts circulated among prospective team members, and only the experienced swimmers came out -- roughly 50 -- to compete for spots on this year's rosters.
There has been a carryover effect from the possibility of tryouts, Laux noticed during preseason practice.
"It's been very effective. The girls are working harder, they're working more intensly," he said.
The swimmers are eager to continue displaying that motivation this fall.
"It's going to be much more intense training," senior captain Gabbie LeBlanc said.
Staples turned around a 3-7 finish in 2011 to go 7-3 last year. Laux is hoping to see that improvement translate into continued success as the fall progresses.
Gone are a handful of state qualifiers who graduated. This year's captains are LeBlanc, who swims the 100 breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley, and Luci Slater, who competes in the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
"I'm really excited for this year, especially because a lot of the girls have improved so much over the summer," Slater said. "Every one of the swimmers is working extremely hard to give it their best."
Senior Verity Abel returns off a stellar season in which she won the 500 free and placed second in the 200 free at the State Open. Abel also competes in the breaststroke, backstroke and 100 butterfly events.
Laux also expects significant contributions from Jordan Santarella (fly, back and free), Aileen Coyne (free), Mia Bullock (breast and individual medley), Mira Patel (fly and breast) and Anelise Browne (free). The team also has a strong group of divers led by Olivia Crosby, Eliza Donovan and Sophia Stanley.
"I think we have a lot we can accomplish this year," LeBlanc said. "When the championships come around, we're going to really prove what we can do when we put our minds to it."
Laux expects his team to experience some success, but he believes it will take time. The fall campaign is very brief, with the meet schedule lasting just over a month. After a couple weeks of practice between late October and early November, it's onto the championship meets.
"They'll get there. The only question is will they get there soon enough," Laux said, referring to his team's progress.
Laux believes the effort from his swimmers must stay strong for them to keep pace with the competition in the FCIAC.
"We don't have as many year-round swimmers as the other teams in the FCIAC," he said. "We try to take kids who come to us with athletic ability and make them swimmers."
Staples opens its season Sept. 18 at home against Ridgefield at 4 p.m.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance writer