Sag Harbor senior Jack Duryea said it’s exciting, but also bittersweet, being a senior on the Bonackers swim team. At the end of the day, though, he’s just thankful to have some time in the pool.
“I was very uncertain if we were going to have an actual season, and there is definitely still some uncertainty, but I’m trying to stay positive,” he said. “For the moment, things are looking up.”
His varsity team, comprised of students from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, started practice on Monday, but the Pierson High School student has to sit this week out. That’s because his district made the switch to all remote learning following the holiday break as a precaution and a result of the increase in test positivity rates in Suffolk County amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, it’s a little disappointing to not be able to practice with my teammates for the first week since last March. Especially being a senior and with a shortened season, I’d like to be at every single practice,” Duryea said. “In the meantime, I’m getting ahead on my schoolwork so I’m prepared to go back to a busy schedule when I return.”
Senior Colin Harrison also hoped this day would eventually come, knowing he did not want to feel the unfortunate pain suffered by many seniors who had their seasons cut short last spring, and like those still waiting to see what this year will bring. He, like many seniors on the squad, are also looking to swim for a college team. While the schedule is packed into a two-month time span, and practice cut to a little over a week, many of the Bonackers who are also on the Hurricanes club team, based out of the YMCA East Hampton RECenter, which began competing last November, feel the time crunch may not affect them as much.
“Hurricane training has kept me in shape and helped me achieve times needed for college,” Harrison said. “I feel very prepared, but I’m not going to stop working to get faster.”
East Hampton senior Owen McCormac said the situation is still unfortunate, especially when it comes to working with the younger student-athletes, but also noted “in these times, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“Although we’ve had more time in the water, the boys that don’t compete with the Hurricanes don’t, and I won’t even get to meet some of the new freshmen and show them the ropes due to us being in the water on different days,” McCormac said. “But I have lots of trust in our other captains like Colin Harrison, who will be with the new guys on the days I’m not.”
He said following all state and local health guidelines at the YMCA has also helped them adjust early to what it will feel like come time to compete.
“We practice every day while still maintaining social distancing rules, so come time when we have a swim meet, we are able to conduct ourselves in such a manner that we are prepared for,” the senior said. “I don’t think it will hinder the team.”
The boys are only swimming around eight hours a week though, Duryea said, compared to the usual 12 or 13, with the different age groups forced to isolate from each other. Gone for now are the days of pizza parties and other pre-meet gatherings where the teammates can bond while getting prepared to swim.
“Of course, I want to be in the pool as much as possible, but considering the circumstances, I think the entire team is grateful to still be in the water Monday through Friday,” Duryea said. “If there is competition, it is a relief knowing the team has been putting in a significant amount of work, putting us in a good position to be ready to race.”
Head coach Craig Brierley said the environment will still be very much different, especially with no spectators. The only ones allowed by the pool are the members and coaches of each team, two officials and whoever is controlling the scoreboard.
“Something that is very important to our program is including their family, friends and the spectators — that’s a big part of competitions, we love to keep everybody involved as much as possible, so we will miss that aspect, for sure,” the coach said. “But I think when it comes down to competing, you put two teams together and the competitiveness will come out. As long as there’s someone in the lane next to them, they’ll be pushed.”
To help those looking to cheer on their swimmers from home, Sag Harbor Athletic Director Eric Bramoff said the meets will be live-streamed with the help of his district’s information technology department.
“That is a definite goal for me, personally,” he said. “It’s the only games in town right now.”
McCormac said not having a crowd can affect a player’s demeanor.
“The crowd can really get you going sometimes,” he said. “Especially during the relays — everyone is screaming and yelling — it really gets your adrenaline pumping and ready to go fast.”
Harrison said he’s “more than happy to take what I can get,” adding that he’s recruited some new swimmers, both freshmen and upperclassmen, to help the latter with conditioning due to their sports being canceled.
“I’m just glad we have enough room for the athletes,” Harrison said, “because after four years I’ve seen that no one is better at cheering someone on than their own teammate.”
McCormac said the younger athletes are “actually the lucky ones, because they don’t have to produce the times that colleges want.” But the students also have less time to adjust and find what events they’re most interested in competing in.
“They have time for COVID to hopefully pass before colleges start pressuring for better and better times,” he added.
Other seniors this season include Pierson’s Joey Badilla and East Hampton’s Fernando Menjura, and all have now been part of back-to-back league championship-winning teams. Each year, swimmers have responsibilities based on the number of years they’ve been a Bonacker, with all upperclassmen leading in one way or another. Duryea, Harrison and McCormac have all been on the Hurricanes club team for at least seven years, with all joining the varsity team as eighth-graders.
“I always look to the seniors for their guidance and their help,” Brierley said. “We still have a good, strong core of swimmers we’ve been fortunate to have the last few years. I know they’re excited to try and build on that success the best they can with what we’ve been given.”
But this season will also look different in another way, with assistant coach Brian Cunningham unable to return to the team. He is a teacher, and his wife works in the school system while helping educate their young daughter. Because of that, Brierley has recruited his eldest son Thomas, who is not only familiar to his coaching style, but also with many of the swimmers.
“He has done coaching at a volunteer level in the past. It’s good to have him back,” the head coach said. “It’ll be good for the boys, too. He’ll fill in seamlessly, and they’ll be excited to see him. A majority of the boys know him well.”
The Bonackers’ first meet will be at home Thursday, November 14, against Deer Park at 5 p.m. They’ll travel to North Babylon January 19 for a 5 p.m. meet.
“I think they’re in pretty good shape for sure,” Brierley said. “They’re definitely ready to go.”
McCormac said he thinks his team can repeat previous success thanks in large part to its depth.
“We may not always win the event, but we will place second, third and fourth, giving us more points than the team who just has an athlete place first,” he said. “I feel great about the season. I think our team, if given the chance, will not just be a big contender at the league meet, but maybe finally win counties.”
Currently, Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County athletics, has league and county meets scheduled, but whether they will take place is going to be determined at a later date.