Bedford swim team making waves this season
“The kids have been swimming really well,” said head coach Jennifer Cullen. “The season’s going extremely well. We have about 20 state qualifiers.”
The boys team ended with a record of 13-4 and the girls went 4-13. Despite the up-and-down performances, Cullen said one of the best parts of coaching this year’s team is the varying level of talent and experience because the swimmers have helped each other and gelled.
“We have some swimmers who swim for various clubs that were going to make states fairly easily,” she said. “Then we have that group that was right on the line that don’t swim for club, and then we have a group that did the Bedford Barracudas in the summer and in high school, they’re right on the line for state cuts too, so it’s been really fun working with the kids that are right on the line.”
Although their team meets are over, Cullen said there are a select few swimmers who are still just shy of the cut for states. She could be arranging for one final shot for those especially close to state-qualifying times.
“I may be sending a couple of kids that are close to a state cut, within a second, unofficially to Goffstown’s meet Thursday night,” Cullen said. “They would just swimming as an exhibition to get times.”
Among those athletes heading to states is sophomore Rachel Byrne, the first diver in Bedford history.
Byrne practices diving with a club at Harvard, and sometimes Boston University, with the head coach of the Boston University diving program, so she doesn’t always participate with the Bedford team she is a part of. Cullen said that hasn’t been a problem, and Byrne has integrated well with her school team.
“She’s really connected to the whole program, which has been fun to watch,” said Cullen. “The most exciting part was our first meet at Philips Exeter, where diving was included in the swim meet. The swim meet at Philips Exeter, the kids were all able to cheer for her and support her. After each dive, Rachel was really touched that she was part of the program.”
In her four diving meets, Byrne came in first each time. Her final diving meet was Saturday night, Jan. 19, at an invitational held by Dover. While others at her team head to the state meet for swimming on Saturday, Feb. 9, Byrne will compete on Friday night in the diving competition.
At practice with her club, Byrne does warm-ups and strengthening for 45 minutes to an hour, and then hits the diving board for sometimes up to two hours perfecting some old dives and learning new ones.
“It’s my first season and I’ve only been diving for four months, so I’m trying to just have fun with it and see how it goes,” said Byrne. “This season, I’ve been trying to get my back, one-and-a-half dive to be better than it is, and I’ve been trying to get new dives so I can have higher difficulty.”
When she isn’t diving, Byrne joins the swimmers and practice and at meets, Swimmers who have stood out for Cullen are captains Kathleen Bolton and Nathan Schappler, as well as two who always seem to anchor relay teams, Zack Grimmett and Natalie Giraldi.
Besides being exceptional swimmers, Cullen said Bolton and Schappler took on their duties as captains and were instrumental in helping their teammates.
“(Bolton) gets kids up and gets them motivated, cheering on all the kids,” said Cullen. “She’s a pretty vocal captain, which is great. She works great with our other captain, Nathan, who isn’t quite as vocal, but has done some really good things with some of the new swimmers. In the beginning of the season, we had a couple swimmers who were pretty uncomfortable. He would go over and support them in their first race or teach them a relay start.”
Grimmett and Giraldi have been the team’s go-to swimmers in crunch time. They were continually the last to jump in and made several comebacks throughout the season.
“They’re both just crazy competitive,” Cullen said. “Usually, they’re diving in and we’re behind. They don’t always catch the person, but the strength they put in and the competitive spirit that both of them put in just makes those races so exciting.”
After the state meet on Feb. 9 at UNH’s Swazey Pool, the top six swimmers of each event advance to the Meet of Champions on Feb. 10.
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