Mary Jo Monnin’s girls swimming outlook / Clarence leads the way - The Buffalo News

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Mary Jo Monnin’s girls swimming outlook / Clarence leads the way

Clarence girls swimming coach Joe Zwierzchowski said he is coaching the type of team that comes along once every 50 years. Before you dismiss that as coach-speak, consider:

• The Red Devils’ roster has six returning All-Americans.

• They’ve won the New York State title in the 200 free relay the last three years and the 400 free relay in two of the last three.

• They qualified 27 swimmers for the ECICs.

• Six swimmers have already hit state cut times.

• Dina Rommel is the defending state champion in the 50 and 100 frees. She’s verbally committed to Virginia.

“You just have to enjoy the moment and seize the opportunity,” said Zwierzchowski, a longtime local swimming coach in his second season at Clarence. “Once you’re an All-American … they just want to go faster at this point, they’ve already achieved something that kids dream about and never get there. They are not resting on their laurels.”

Clarence has a collection of seniors that sets crazy goals and then goes out and achieves them. The team’s last meet together in its home pool will be Saturday’s ECICs. It wants to break all three pool records in the relays. Don’t be surprised if it does.

The Red Devils won an unheard of four state titles last year. This year they want to repeat as champions in those events while lowering their winning times. Don’t be surprised if they do.

“It’s crazy that we have all these fast girls on one team,” said Sydney Modeas. “We always want to keep improving, that’s what drives us. We achieve a goal and then we make another goal. That’s why we practice every day because we want to reach the next level.”

The team finished 9-0 to win ECIC I for the fifth year in a row. The Red Devils doubled their closest competition of the year, beating Orchard Park, 125-61.

Seniors Rommel, Modeas, Rebecca Anthone, and Victoria Butler along with juniors Maddy Jacumski and Dorotka Tou will leave a legacy tough to match.

“They want to leave with numerous state records and not in a pompous, arrogant way,” said Zwierzchowski. “Internally, they just want to go faster: They eat it, sleep it, dream it. It’s their ultimate goal. The younger swimmers are smart enough to know they are probably watching the best girls they are ever going to swim with at any level.”

Quakers’ Ernst can ‘fly’

Orchard Park sophomore Andrea Ernst has qualified for states in the 50 and 100 frees, along with the 100 butterfly, an event in which she holds the school record of 57.80. She joins her sister Amanda, Olivia Sapio and Katrina Wardner in having qualified in the 200 free relay.

“I usually just try to focus on my underwaters and try to breathe until my first stroke into the wall,” said Ernst. “I think our relay is going to go pretty far.”

A few ECIC coaches say junior Morgan Wellenzohn of Orchard Park is the best diver they’ve seen all season. She is the school record holder for six dives with 279 points as well as 11 dives with 363.35.

It’s her third season diving for the Quakers since coming over from gymnastics. Among her strengths are dives in the pike position.

“Gymnasts have a really good awareness of their body so when you ask them to do something on the board, they already know body positioning,” said OP diving coach Jillian Meister. “Her pike somersaults are very clean and she folds right in half and she always kicks right out of them.”

A Shark in the water

Senior Aleza Epstein of Sacred Heart looks to put the final touches on an impressive six-year varsity career. She qualified for her fifth state meet in the 100 butterfly. She still holds the Monsignor Martin Association record in the 100 back at 1:00.43. She’s also looking to go punch her state ticket in the back and 50 free.

“She doesn’t know how good she is, she could easily swim for a Division I college of her choosing,” said first-year Sharks coach Maggie Hamilton. “She’s a very well-rounded young woman. She doesn’t just care about her own swims, she cares about the whole team’s performances.”

Nardin’s depth has helped it remain undefeated at 12-0, with seven of the wins against public schools. Kelsey Ables is one of the league’s fastest in the 100 back and 500 free. Sophomore Sarah Townsend can swim in a variety of events and is undefeated against opposing teams in the 200 and 500.

Mount St. Mary has taken on a large number of Holy Angels transfers, making for an interesting dynamic with former competitors now swimming together. The returning members have made the newcomers feel welcome. The team’s only league losses are to Nardin.

Alexis Fredricks has qualified for states in the 200 IM, 100 back and 100 fly. The medley relay of Fredricks, Natalie Brophy, Grace Fredricks and Molly Meka are also making the trip.

The Monsignor Martin Association is down to a three-team league with Nardin, Sacred Heart and Mount St. Mary. Its All-Catholic Championship will be Nov. 5 at ECC at 6 p.m. A win in the fly would be the third in a row for Epstein.


Kenmore West’s loss is Anita Alvarez’s gain. The Kenmore West junior has left the team and moved to California after getting an invitation to train with the National Synchro team. She will be training duets for the next few months and then with the national team as a whole group.

Alvarez swam in West’s first seven matches, leading them to a 7-0 record going into this week’s Niagara Frontier League meet. She was undefeated this season and already had qualified for states. Niagara-Wheatfield will host the NFL meet which begins on Wednesday with prelims, continues on Thursday with diving and concludes on Friday with the finals at 5 p.m.

West is undefeated, but its wins over Lockport and Niagara-Wheatfield came down the last relay. The NFL meet counts as a league meet for every team and will decide the NFL title. West will likely struggle with Alvarez 4,000 miles away.

Senior Jenna Rice of the Blue Devils is the No. 1 seed in the ’fly and backstroke. She went to states last year in back. Junior Julia Sagasta is No. 1 in the 500 free and has already qualified for states.


Olean has a gifted young swimmer in sophomore Makayla Sargent, who already has competed in two state meets.

Her talent will be on display Monday and Tuesday when the Huskies host the CCAA League meet. Sargent was runner-up last year in the state in the 200 IM. When it comes to individual events, she holds every school except the 100 backstroke.

During the long course season she swam in the 400 individual medley at the junior nationals in California. “I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve had some great swimmers, and she’s pretty much single-handedly rewritten our record board,” said Olean coach Dan Brown. “I think she excels in that middle distance setting. She’s really strong in just about every stroke. It’s a pleasure to work with her and watch her swim.”

Southwestern’s Sidney Thomas is going to states in the 100 back and her team qualified in the 200 free relay. Diedra Osula of the combined team from Dunkirk, Fredonia and Silver Creek hit the state cut in the 50 free and 100 fly.


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