Boys swimming: Masuk storms past New Fairfield

Monroe-Nizzardo-swim

Michael Nizzardo swims his leg of the 400-freestyle relay in Masuk’s come-from-behind 89-81 win over New Fairfield. (Andy Hutchison)

Never in his first 10 years as coach of Masuk High’s boys swim team had Tom Harkins defeated New Fairfield.

That all changed on Tuesday. The host Panthers, seemingly destined for another loss to their South-West Conference rivals — trailing 52-26 through five events — came from behind with great swims in the final six events to pull out an 89-81 win.

Harkins wasn’t hiding the fact that he wasn’t expecting his team to prevail.

“Very surprised,” he said of the outcome, adding that he did anticipate his swimmers making it interesting. “I knew we’d be close.”

Masuk didn’t record any first-place finishes in the first six events of the meet, but used a two-three-four finish to gain valuable points in the sixth event, the 100 yard freestyle event, outscoring the Rebels 13-2, to close to within 55-39.

As the meet unfolded, the Panthers got closer and closer and, finally, took the lead with two events to go.

In the first event of the meet, the Panthers’ 200 medley relay team of Matthew Benet, David Ball, Matthew Pearson and Michael Monaco came in second in a time of 1:54.85.

Timothy Quinlan then earned second in the 200 free in 2:04.77. In the 200 individual medley race, Riley Bachard placed third in 2:33.60, and Monaco was second in the 50 free, making his final touch in 25.04. Bachard came in second in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:07.90.

Those were Masuk’s best finishes in each event heading into the final six of the meet, and those outcomes kept the team hanging around, although it wasn’t looking so good.

“It’s a lot to come back at that point,” Harkins said.

In the 100 freestyle race, Pearson was second in 57.02, Benet placed third in 57.57, and Kyle Collins was fourth in 58.32.

Then Young took the top spot in the 500 free, finishing the race in a time of 5:44.01. The 200 relay group comprising Quinlan, Pearson, Collins and Monaco was first in 1:40.68. Young won the backstroke race in 1:04.85, and Benet followed in second with a time of 1:10.69.

At this point Masuk was well within striking distance, behind 73-67 with two events remaining.

A one-two finish by Quinlan (1:11.84) and Ball (1:11.93) in the 100 breaststroke event gave the Panthers a 79-77 lead.

Masuk sealed the win with a first- and third-place finish in the 400 free relay race. The winning team of Pearson, Young, Quinlan and Monaco finished in 3:47.48. The third-place contingent of Collins, Michael Nizzardo, Nick Wells and Benet had a time of 3:53.27.

The Panthers had several personal best times and improved to 2-2 this winter.

Dan Murphy improved his 100 butterfly time by eight seconds, finishing in 1:15.69. Quinlan had a personal best time in the breaststroke race, and Young raced to his fastest time of the year in the 500.

The team lost eight graduates from last year’s team, and those swimmers accounted for about 70 percent of its points in any given meet, Harkins said.

He added that this year’s squad has been working hard and making strides since the season began in December. The Panthers had some consolation wins by virtue of personal best times in a setback to always-tough Brookfield in their previous meet. By improving times even more in the New Fairfield tilt, the Panthers got the team win.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Harkins said of his swimmers. “It’s across the board.”

Harkins attributes much of the Panthers’ success to the coaching of his assistant, Conor Lui, who holds Masuk’s backstroke and butterfly records.

The Panthers are hopeful that the improved times will continue as the season unfolds, and Harkins is confident his squad will be a much improved version of its early-season self once the postseason rolls around.

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