Jack Duryea has a new-found appreciation for every chance he gets to jump in the pool and compete.
The Pierson High School senior and 11-year member of the YMCA East Hampton RECenter’s Hurricanes Swim Team team said his gratitude was just as great during the MacNiven Memorial Meet against Huntington at the RECenter November 14. The team out of East Hampton won, 2689-1860.
“It’s awesome to be back in the pool every day,” Duryea said. “I’ve tried to go into every meet with the mindset that it could be my last due to the uncertainty surrounding these times.”
Hurricanes head coach Tom Cohill; assistant coaches Angelika Cruz, Sean Knight, Eugene DePasquale and Sean Crowley; East Hampton YMCA Executive Director Stephen Lee; Program Coordinator Sondra Vecchio; Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of YMCA Long Island Eileen Knauer and many other staff members came together to help make the first home meet of the year possible.
The annual event in honor of former coach Annette MacNiven was broken up into four sessions to ensure social distancing. All swimmers had to wear masks when not in the water and the pool deck was limited to just 50 people, where there used to be over 150 kids each meet. Parents and other spectators were not allowed to watch the competition poolside.
“There’s that energy that they’re developing outside the need of spectators,” Cohill said, seconding the notion that athletes are swimming each race like it could be their last. “The quiet calm was obvious, but ability for those kids — whether 9 or 18 years old — to have something right now … it’s immeasurable. They know how fortunate they are.”
Cruz said the smiles were evident despite masks being worn at all times.
“It is safe to say everyone was happy to race again,” the assistant coach said, adding it was also a meet unlike any other because the swimmers had minimal time to recover between races. “Rather than four events within three or four hours, we had four events within an hour-and-a-half. Many times, swimmers barely had time to catch their breath before heading onto the block for their next events; yet the smiles never disappeared and many kept swimming best time after best time. It was definitely fun to watch the hard work pay off.”
The Hurricanes competed for the first time last month at an invitational at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, racing there again on November 8.
“We were unable to practice from March until basically September, so being back every day is a relief,” Duryea said. “The entire team, including myself, has been very motivated this year, and everyone comes to every practice and every meet ready to swim fast.”
The senior competed in the 50-yard freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle, coming close to personal best times. He placed second in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1 minute, 4.27 seconds, and touched the wall fourth in the 50 freestyle with a 23.49 finish.
“I worked out at home almost every day during quarantine, doing mostly body weight workouts such as pushups and squats,” he said. “Summer came along, and as an ocean lifeguard, I spent a lot of time swimming in the ocean and running along the beach.”
East Hampton senior Bella Tarbet and Pierson High School senior Kiara Bailey Williams said they were thankful to be able to do the same.
Tarbet placed first in the 50 freestyle — with a 24.89 finish — and 100 butterfly — 59.43 — and second in the 100 freestyle with a time of 57.41. Her 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly were best times.
“It was my first time breaking 25 seconds in the 50 free — so that was a big deal for me personally,” said Tarbet, who has been on the team for eight years. “My friend Summer Jones, a sophomore at East Hampton, and I had a few very close races that came down to mere hundredths of a second, so the meet was great; we had a lot of fun. And with the way coach Tom, Angelika, Sean and YMCA staff ran the meet, we were able to keep things safe and take all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Jones, who earned a Top 16 national ranking in her age group back in January, finished first in the 100 freestyle in 56.10 and second in the 50 freestyle in 25.34. East Hampton sophomore Jane Brierley placed first in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.29, and third in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:04.95. Bailey Williams secured a second-place finish with her time of 1:18.66 in the 100 breaststroke, fifth in the 100 backstroke (1:08.22) and touched the wall ninth in the 100 freestyle (1:03.52).
“I definitely took the pool for granted before COVID-19. Being back in the chlorine was ironically extremely refreshing — I say ironically because the pool area is usually kind of hot and stuffy, smelling strongly of chlorine … not a traditional image of refreshing,” Bailey Williams said, laughing. “And being able to compete is one of the best parts of swimming. I really could not be more grateful that I have another chance to compete before I finish my final year on the team.”
Cohill said he’s been happy to expand the club team’s swimming offerings since the group started to practice again in August.
“We worked really hard this summer to get the team back in the water,” the head coach said. “What’s been really pleasant to see is all the kids — oldest all the way down — they’re all swimming right on some of their best times, and I think that’s a testament to them staying in shape even when we weren’t in the pool. They were doing their own workouts — taking care of themselves mentally and physically to the best of their abilities.”
Tarbet said practices have been more and more intense, but the Hurricanes make them fun.
She and Duryea each got to pick teams out of their practice groups and run their own 45-minute mini-meets on Fridays.
“We’ve had to make changes to our routines this year. It’s a good way to practice racing, and it’s gotten us back into the competitive spirit,” Tarbet said. “We know that at any second everything can get shut down again, so we’re all trying to make the most of what we’re being given.”
Pierson senior Joey Badilla placed second in the 200 individual medley (2:07.99) and the 100 backstroke (58.52) and fifth in the 50 freestyle (23.69) and 100 breaststroke (1:14.55) at Saturday’s meet. His younger brother Nicky, a sophomore, finished fifth in the 100 backstroke (1:02.34), sixth in the 100 freestyle (53.140) and 200 individual medley (2:17.12) and seventh in the 100 freestyle (24.72). East Hampton senior Fernando Menjura finished third in the 100 freestyle (23.09) and 100 butterfly (1:06.88) and tied for third in the 100 backstroke (1:00.67). Menjura also touched the wall fifth in the 100 freestyle (52.97). East Hampton senior Owen McCormac placed first in the 50 freestyle in 22.74 and 100 freestyle in 50.49. East Hampton senior Colin Harrison finished first in the 100 butterfly in a personal best 55.98 — dropping a second off his time — and second behind McCormac in the 100 freestyle in 50.93. The senior’s 50 and 100 freestyle times were also close to personal bests.
“To be honest, I was completely beat,” Harrison said, laughing when talking about an intense Wednesday practice prior to the meet. “But I walked in today ready to represent my team the best I can and try my hardest, leaving it all in the pool. I love swimming, and it really helps to pull so much positive out of a terribly negative pandemic.”
It’s also going to help the seven-year club swimmer get noticed by colleges. Like most seniors on the team, with the potential the Section XI season could be canceled comes less chances to be recruited, so the student-athletes will take whatever exposure they can get.
“Last year, I qualified for nationals, but didn’t get the chance to compete, reasonably of course — the cancellation was definitely for the best — but that competition would’ve put me on the map for elite levels of recruitment, so it was disappointing to miss that chance,” Harrison said. “It has definitely been difficult, but I’m very grateful for Tom, Angelika and everyone else who has helped set up these opportunities for us.”
“This is an opportunity that I am extremely grateful for,” Bailey Williams echoed. “Not only does it give me the chance to improve my times, but it means I get to feel the exciting energy that comes with competing on a team of great people I have been swimming with for half of my life. It’s like a chance to say my goodbyes to club swim and hello to collegiate swimming. I can’t wait to go out with a bang.”
Cohill said that and more has made this year special.
“There were things we all used to take for granted, and we’ve all learned that,” the coach said. “For me, my goal for these kids is to have fun, work hard at practice, swim fast — and if we’re having fun and enjoying ourselves that’s all these kids and families could ask for right now. To hear the kids are echoing what I’m saying, that to me just really, really ties together how we’re on the same page, how close this group of athletes is. When you have that kind of synchronicity, the kids can do amazing things.”