Darien captures FCIAC swimming and diving crown

Lexi Punishill of the Darien Blue wave reacts after winning the 100yd Freestyle during the FCIAC Girls Swimming Championship on Tuesday9 at Greenwich High School.

Lexi Punishill of the Darien Blue wave reacts after winning the 100yd Freestyle during the FCIAC Girls Swimming Championship on Tuesday9 at Greenwich High School.

Gregory Vasil / For Hearst Connecticut Media

GREENWICH — Fittingly, Tuesday night’s FCIAC Girls Swimming Championships ended with Darien winning the 400-yard freestyle relay — an event that takes a team effort.

It takes an ultimate team effort for a squad to win a championship swim meet and that’s exactly what the Blue Wave received Tuesday evening before a packed house at Greenwich High School.

Where each competitor places in their respective race, is especially significant in a meet like the FCIAC finals and Darien got the finishes it needed.

Showcasing its depth, Darien swam away with the FCIAC championship, totaling 335 team points. Greenwich, which won the team title the previous two seasons, was the runner-up (303), followed by Staples (288), New Canaan (241) and Wilton (229).

“We certainly weren’t expecting this,” Darien coach Marj Trifone said. “We didn’t talk about this at the beginning of the season as one of our goals. This was a huge team effort for us, since we only had one individual first-place finish in the meet. But we had a lot of people in those consolation heats and they all counted and we did well last night (Monday night) in diving too.”

Said Blue Wave junior Kendall Luecke, one of the team’s top swimmers on Tuesday: “It’s really exciting, because at the beginning of the season, we didn’t think we would be in this position, so it’s so much fun to watch the team grow and become super close this season. I’m so proud of our team.”

Ridgefield placed sixth in the team standings (227), followed by Trumbull (202), Norwalk-McMahon (122.50), Fairfield Warde (90.50) and Westhill-Stamford (88). The victory marked the first time Darien won the FCIAC team title since 2014. The Blue Wave captured the FCIAC title three straight years (2012-2014).

The much-anticipated FCIAC finals began with Trumbull’s foursome of senior Mia Zajac, sophomore Lauren Walsh, senior Ashleigh Piro and senior Julia Nevins combining for a winning time of 1:46.86 in the 200-yard medley relay. Greenwich placed second (1:47.25), followed by New Canaan (1:49.33).

“It was a great meet and super competitive,” Cardinals coach Lorrie Hokayem said. “It’s awesome to have three, or four teams in the mix today, all competing. Darien had a fantastic meet, Saturday, through the diving and through today. They definitely earned it today.”

In the 200-yard freestyle, Ridgefield junior Rylie Giles took it out strong and won the race in 1:52.35. Morgan Lenoce from Staples was the runner-up in 1:54.16 and Luecke posted a third-place finish (1:54.67).

“I’m really happy with my time in the 200,” Giles said. “I love this meet, it’s one of the best ones, along with the state meet and the State Open. I’m looking for my times to keep improving.”

The 200-yard individual medley saw Walsh of Trumbull earn the first-place medal in the 200-yard individual medley, posting a time of 2:02.21. Right behind Walsh was Greenwich junior Meghan Lynch (2:02.43). Staples senior Esme Hunter took third in 2:06.76, followed by Wilton senior Ellen Holmquist.

Walsh was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Swimmer.

“People were in front of me in the 200 IM, but I wanted this so bad,” Walsh said. “I was giving it all I had.”

She was emotional when she received the award for Most Outstanding Swimmer.

“It almost gave me tears, I have so many friends that support me and they are such a big part of our team,” Walsh said. “I’m so proud of everyone.”

Said Greenwich’s Lynch: “The girl I raced, I will hopefully, race her at the next meet. I’m happy with my time, even though I finished second.”

Ridgefield junior Hannah Seward gave the Tigers their second individual victory, registering a winning time of 23.87 seconds in the 50 freestyle. Darien freshman Natalia Ferraro finished second in 24.22, while Blue Wave teammate Lexi Punishill, a senior took third (24.23). Right behind Punishill were Zajac of Trumbull (24.44) and Warde’s Mary Ryan (24.45).

“It feels good to see that the hard work I have put in has paid off,” said Seward, who swam for Greenwich in 2018. “Every person on our team did so well tonight.”

Seward came right back and claimed the first-place medal in the ensuing event — the 100-yard butterfly — in 54.50. Walsh was the runner-up (55.45), Norwalk-McMahon senior Ashley Calderon took third (56.96) and Wilton senior Emma Babashak (57.43) and New Canaan senior Alexandra Mehos (57.85) were fourth and fifth, respectively.

“I was working hard on my underwaters the whole race,” Seward said, referring to the butterfly.

Said Walsh: “I was tired on the last lap, but I kept pushing it, because I want to think about my future and where I’m going with swimming.”

Darien received an individual win from Punishill, who earned the first-place medal in the 100-yard freestyle (52.82). Staples’ Jessica Qi placed second in 53.07. Also close behind were Ludlowe senior Lily Kernaghan (53.23), freshman Mary Ryan of Warde (53.69) and Greenwich senior Jenna Handali (54.07).

“It feels so great to win the 100 freestyle, especially since last year I finished fifth,” Punishill said. “I had to come back from a shoulder injury and a back injury the past year, so it’s rewarding. We received a huge team effort tonight.”

Giles garnered her second gold medal of the evening, touching the wall first in the 500-yard freestyle (5:01.23). Wilton received a second-place finish from sophomore Abbey Gardner 5:06.21. New Canaan’s Maddie Haley was third (5:09.92).

“The 500 is such a long race, so you feel really tired at the end,” Giles said. “You really feel like you accomplished something special by winning it. I started off really strong, which helped.”

Punishill, freshman Lily Bradbury, Ferranto and Luecke teamed up to win the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:37.28. A blink of an eye behind them was Staples (1:37.56).

“We had lights out relays, our relays were phenomenal,” Trifone said. “There were a lot of best times for our girls.”

The 100 backstroke title went to Staples’ Hunter, who clocked in at 56.08. Haley placed second (56.31), Kernaghan finished third (56.31) and Greenwich’s Samantha Ennis took fourth (57.93).

“The 100 backstroke, I really needed to push myself to get one of the top times,” said Hunter, who also swam in the 200 freestyle relay. I’m so impressed with how well our team did. We were hoping for a top-five finish. Coach said before the meet that if nothing changes, we could get second, or third and we all got really excited.”

Lynch posted a winning performance in the 100 breaststroke, touching the wall in 1:04.39. Holmquist of Wilton was the runner-up (1:06.22).

“That was really fun, I was really excited for that race going into it,” Lynch said. “I was comfortable with my seed, but you never know what’s going to happen in the 100, so it was good. We still have two big meets left, where we shave and taper for them, so we are looking forward to those meets (Class LL, State Open Championships).”

The meet concluded with Punishill, Bradbury, junior Olivia Golden and Luecke giving Darien a first-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay (3:33.45). Greenwich’s Handali, Caterina Li, and Lynch were second in 3:34.12, followed by Ridgefield (3:34.91).

“We’re all super excited to go to states,” Golden said. “Especially since we’er facing a different mixture of teams. This gives us a good idea of where we are going to be at states.”