Girls swimming: The depths of the unknown
What do you do with so much depth? Play around with it.
That's what the New Canaan girls swim team has the luxury of doing, evidenced by the team's 99-73 win Monday afternoon win over St. Joseph, a meet that went to exhibition status seven events in.
The Rams have played the role over favorite well in the past few years, and now the team seems to have the balance that so few get: a deep group with lots of young talent and enough returning, all-conference impact swimmers. There appears to be few -- if no -- weaknesses up and down the lineup.
"We're a lot deeper this year, as far as we have three swimmers in every event that are strong," Cara Egan said. "That's going to be how we win meets -- the third swimmer."
The Rams received first-place finishes in individual races in their home pool at the New Canaan YMCA Monday from Cara Egan, Maddie Rusch, Jenna Egan, Grace Duncan and Livi Kroll. All three A relay teams easily cruised to first-place touches as well. The 200 medley relay team of Duncan, Erin Dunstan, Emma Tobey and Ali Rusch got the meet started with a bang, dominating St. Joe's with a 1:57.92 finish.
The 200-yard freestyle relay of the Rusch and Egan sisters -- Maddie then Jenna then Allie then Cara -- had a 1:44.32 time, easily besting the rest of the pool. And the 400 freestyle relay, which swam in exhibition (Maddie Rusch, Allie Skaperdas, Taylor Dunstan and Cara Egan) took first in 3:49.55.
"We're racing the people here, but we're also racing ourselves to see what we can do, what we can maneuver ourselves," Rams head coach Dave Fine said.
Maddie Rusch is the Jack-of-all-trades swimmer on this team. Fine knows he's got a couple of strong ones in the Egan sisters and Kroll, but Rusch could be the catalyst and cog to a conference crown.
"Maddie's an unbelievable swimmer all around, so we're kind of feeling out where we can put her," Fine said. "Last meet she swam the (200) free -- unbelievable time. She swam the IM (individual medley) today, an unbelievable time. ... She has every event in her. It's what everyone else is doing that's going to allow us to put her in the best places. She is probably the best 50-freestyler in the state."
Rusch finished the 100-yard fly in 1:00.35, leaving the 50-yard freestyle to Jenna Egan, who touched the wall in 26.30 to take first place. Teammates Ali and Tory Rusch were close behind.
"We have a lot of options because most everyone on our team is very versatile," Maddie Rusch said.
Rules dictate swimmers can only compete in two individual events per meet, so as the team molds into its finest and fastest form, Maddie Rusch will be plucked and plunked into the events that will make the Rams most indefatigable.
The team is starting to fill in the gaps very nicely, the coach said. Duncan took first place in the 100-yard freestyle by finishing with a 57.22; Cara Egan paced herself well in the 500-yard freestyle, outlasting the competition to the tune of 5:24.40. The long-distance race has quite a bit of competition. Patty Kilbride and Emma Tobey also swam it for the Rams Monday, but Maddie Rusch and Cara Egan have been approached about swimming in that event against the tougher teams.
"I'm comfortable with the 50 free and the 100 fly," Rusch said, adding she's testing her horizons. "The 500, it's a possibility I could swim it."
Egan added: "We train so much with freestyle, long freestyle, that it's almost automatic to push long-distance freestyle."
Egan swam 100- and 200-yard freestyle, which is what she's most comfortable with, but she said she'll expand her repertoire to all forms of freestyle -- and could include the 100-yard breas stroke as well. The team has an extremely reliable insurance policy for Maddie Rusch, should they need it in a big spot.
As for the relay teams, Fine said starting spots on A, B and C teams are still out there.
"On the 400-free relay, any one of the 12 girls could probably be on our A relay," said Fine, "And our 200-free relay as well. ... Greenwich is all about their relays. Greenwich is gunning for us in that 400-free relay this year because we beat them by a hundredth (of a second) last year."
And if the Rams are to keep pace ahead of Darien and Greenwich, the relay teams are as critical as the third swimmers Cara Egan mentioned before.
"Our B relay (team)s last year weren't as good as they are now," Maddie Rusch said. "Right now I'd say our B relays are almost equal to our A relays."
And just who exactly will swim on those A relays remains entirely uncertain. Often times, you fear what you don't know. If New Canaan's not sure where all the weapons will be loaded, how are opposing squads supposed to feel?