The mood on the bus was light for the Lew-Port girls swimming team last Tuesday.
Jokes were flying around between the girls about how they don’t think they had ever beaten Niagara Frontier League rival Lockport in a dual meet before.
That wasn’t the case, but it had been a while – as in 36 years.
First-year varsity coach Ashley Tutwiler, a Niagara Falls High School grad and former standout at Niagara University, kept her message simple: Anything could happen.
The Lancers left Lockport with a 54-48 triumph over the Lions for the first time in three-plus decades.
“It did come to pretty much the last relay,” Tutwiler said. “We were screaming, running up and down the pool. They just came ready to race that day.”
In reality, the Lancers have come to race all season. All 10 of them, plus two divers.
Despite a small numbers of girls on the team, Lew-Port is out to a 5-0 start to the season with two more dual meets and the NFL Championships left on the league schedule.
“We had more last year but there were a couple seniors who left us,” said Tutwiler, who coached the JV team last season, “and there were some girls that didn’t return this year.”
Lew-Port has fielded much larger teams in the past. Never the size of Lockport or Niagara Wheatfield, but they have reached around 30 kids before.
Decreasing participation has been a noticeable trend at the school for a few years, partly due to ongoing construction of the pool, which just got completed last Thursday. It’s tough to run a program with no place to run clinics and lessons.
“The school is relatively small, so we don’t really attract many swimmers,” Tutwiler said. “All we have is a four-lane pool.”
The fact that Lew-Port’s pool has only four lanes, as opposed to six, has been a major key to its success. The scoring system changes depending on the number of lanes.
In an individual race in a six-lane pool, the winner earns six points for her team, second place four points, third place three, fourth place two and fifth place one. In a relay, it’s eight points for the winner, four for second place and two for third place.
But in a four-lane pool, four points go to the individual winner, three to second place and one to third place. For relays, it’s six, three and then one. (Diving scoring is the same as individual scoring.)
Essentially, the bigger the pool, the more people you need to place in order to score points.
“With the four-lane scoring, it rewards a good, small team,” said Niagara Falls coach Jim Stypa, who coaches a handful of Lew-Port swimmers at White Water Swim Club. “You can have low numbers if you can spread the kids out, research the teams you’re facing and make the best matchups.”
“Right now, in a four-lane pool, we’re untouchable,” Tutwiler said. “Every swimmer we have will usually win or take second place. In a six-lane pool, it's a little tougher.”
Luckily for Lew-Port, it has only had one six-lane meet. Without access to a pool, all of its meets so far have been on the road. The Lancers have had to bus to Niagara Falls or practice late at night at Niagara University as well.
They won true away meets at Kenmore East and West (four lanes) and Grand Island (six lanes). Their wins at Niagara Wheatfield and Lockport were scored under “home pool” rules.
“A pool can decide a meet,” Stypa said. “If you need four people for an event, the little teams are at a disadvantage. It comes down to doing your homework and trying to make up points here and there.”
The Lancers will have their one and only home meet of the season against North Tonawanda on Saturday. Next Tuesday they’ll take their act on the road again to the six-lane pool at Niagara Falls.
“Niagara Falls has some really good swimmers,” Tutwiler said. “It’s a team we can’t take lightly. Five racers get points.”
As of now, the NFL Championships at Niagara Falls High School will start with the preliminary rounds on Oct. 24 and the finals on Oct. 26. After that comes sectionals at the Burt Flickinger Center on Nov. 1 (prelims) and Nov. 3 (finals).
The majority of Lew-Port’s swimmers should continue their seasons into November.
Senior Emma Waechter, a co-captain, is the top sprinter and she anchors the medley relay team of sophomore sister Maggie Waechter (backstroke), freshman Sammie Bryk (breaststroke) and eighth-grader Maya Marcyan (butterfly).
“Our relays are really fast,” Tutwiler said. “Our medley relay has won every race, so we kind of always go after that relay and then try to match up with the others.”
Emma’s a couple tenths of a second away from qualifying for states in the 50-meter freestyle.
“She is one of the hardest-working student athletes that I have worked with in my five years of coaching swim,” Tutwiler said of Emma. “She puts 100 percent into every lap she swims. She’s actually considering swimming in college, not sure where yet but maybe potentially higher than D-III.”
Maggie is a distance swimmer and also excels at the 100 backstroke.
“She’s got a very good, long stroke,” Tutwiler said. “Within time, as she gets older and stronger, she’s only going to get faster.”
Junior Bailey Hoplight, the other co-captain, has taken off in the 100 breastroke this season. Last year at sectionals she was at 1:21. This year she’s already gone 1:18.57.
"Bailey distinguished herself by her personal hard work, but also earned much respect for her demonstrated ability to foster growth in her younger teammates," Tutwiler said.
Bryk, who also swims breaststroke and the 200 individual medley, is back healthy after breaking her wrist at the NFL Championships on a lane line last season.
“This year we’re expecting big things from her, as long as she stays away from the lane lines,” Tutwiler joked. “She’s a very good mental swimmer. Very focused.”
Marcyan won the 500 free at the NFL meet as a seventh-grader, but has been mostly used in the butterfly, backstroke and medley this season.
“We call her our little baby because she’s so young, but she is a beast in the pool,” Tutwiler said. “So we call her our baby beast.”
Sophomore Emily Dillon is a dependable swimmer in all freestyle events, including the 200 and 400 relays.
“She doesn’t really talk too much, but she comes to practice determined and motivated,” Tutwiler said.
Sophomore Emily Lauzonis, the daughter of JV coach Joe Lauzonis, is another strong distance swimmer for the Lancers.
“This year I’ve seen a different, more motivated person when it comes to practice,” Tutwiler said. “She had her fastest 500 free time at Lockport, finally broke 6 minutes.”
Freshman Jessi Auila-Shuh is new to the team this year and swims the breaststroke, freestyle and medley events.
“She’s a swimmer I can put in anything and she doesn’t complain,” Tutwiler said.
Seniors Annah Santarosa and Lauren Andrews fill in where needed and are good role models for the younger girls.
Senior diver Adriana Bolender has broken her own the school record twice this season. She's one of the stronger divers in the NFL, finishing in the top 10 last season. She has also been used in the 200 freestyle relay.
Sophomore Eve Pacia is in her first year diving at the school. She's a small margin away from qualifying for sectionals.
The common theme among the standout bunch: versatility.
“They are all natural swimmers, so it doesn’t take much,” Tutwiler said. “I reference back to practices from NU, and they’re always like, 'Let’s do it!' They always want to push themselves. They’re all natural swimmers.”
The girls don’t need any additional incentive. Their drive comes from within.
“Any practice I give to them, I never hear them complain,” Tutwiler said. “I think they really want that league title and knowing they’re undefeated right now, that’s all the motivation they need.”
Their strength is not in numbers. They rely on the strength of those numbers.
“Her girls, many of them are multi-talented,” Stypa said. “Most of her girls, you can put them anywhere and they’d be competitive in the league.”
Tutwiler’s “a hard worker,” Stypa added. “The girls have really bought into their system. They’re swimming fast times already this season but I expect them to be even faster come championship time.”
Story topics: Adriana Bolender/ Annah Santarosa/ Ashley Tutwiler/ Bailey Hoplight/ Emily Dillon/ Emily Lauzonis/ Emma Waechter/ Eve Pacia/ Jessi Auila-Shuh/ Jim Stypa/ Joe Lauzonis/ Lauren Andrews/ Lew-Port/ Lewiston/ Lewiston-Porter/ Maggie Waechter/ Maya Marcyan/ niagara falls/ Niagara University/ Sammie Bryk/ Scholastic Spotlight/ swimming/ White Water Swim Club