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Still plenty of incentive at ECC swim meet as Fitch's Evan Hespeler earns top honors

Feb. 24—EAST LYME — With only three squads competing Saturday, there were no team scores kept at the Eastern Connecticut Conference Boys' Swimming and Diving Invitational, only individual honors.

So what was the incentive?

"It's ECCs," the league's Swimmer of the Meet, junior Evan Hespeler of the Fitch High School cooperative team, said emphatically. "I saw (teammate Michael Urgo) get (Swimmer of the Meet) last year and I was like, 'I have to be on par with Mike.' Mike got it his junior year and now I got it my junior year."

"It's a change this year," Fitch coach Katey Kokomoor said. "The boys were disappointed we didn't do a team score this year, so we set other goals for ourselves so we could win in a lot of different ways."

Hespeler won the 100-yard butterfly in 55.63 seconds and the 100 backstroke in 58.16, both personal bests. He also swam a leg on the Falcons' winning 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay teams.

Fitch teammate Gabe Pacheco won a pair of individual events, as well, first in the 200 individual medley (2:08.70) and the 100 breaststroke (1:04.97). Pacheco was able to overcome Waterford's Alexander Startz in the IM by pulling ahead in the breaststroke leg, which is the third portion of the event.

The Falcons also got wins from Will O'Donnell in the 200 freestyle (1:55.33) and Sterling Welsh in the 50 free (23.19), in addition to sweeping the three relays.

Evan Hespeler, Pacheco, Joel Hespeler and Valentino Tippets teamed for a victory in the 200 medley relay (1:50.22), while Pacheco, O'Donnell, Tippets and Welsh won the 200 free relay (1:38.52) and Welsh, John Chirico, O'Donnell and Evan Hespeler were first in the 400 free relay (3:34.68).

The Fitch co-op is made up of swimmers from Fitch, Stonington, St. Bernard and Wheeler. Other teams competing were East Lyme/Norwich Free Academy and Waterford/Ledyard.

Because the ECC had just three teams, they competed as members of the Southern Connecticut Conference Division II, which meant more opportunities for meets but longer bus rides. The ECC teams were eligible for the SCC Division II regular-season championship.

There were no ECC standings or league all-stars chosen, although league scholar-athletes and sportsmanship award winners were honored Saturday.

"We're very thankful to our athletic directors who worked with the SCC and got us extra meets this year and worked it out to keep the ECC swimming alive," said Kokomoor, whose team was the two-time reigning meet champion. "We're so thankful for that.

"It was a lot of heart. Last year we graduated seven seniors, so I was a little nervous. But all the guys showed up. They all stepped up and rose to the occasion all season long. We had several strong leaders this year, really just a whole team that showed up. I can't emphasize enough how the team came together."

Other titles Saturday went to East Lyme/NFA's Ed Morcos in the 100 freestyle (personal-best 51.84) and Connor Foerster in the 500 freestyle (5:18.23) and Waterford diver Ethan Jones (129.50).

Morcos, a junior, won the most closely contested race of the day, edging Welsh of Fitch by .12 seconds.

"I saw him. I saw every inch: every inch I lost, every inch I gained," Morcos said. "But in the end it all just mattered if I want to win, I've got to work hard for it, got to go for it. If you don't you're going to regret it for the rest of your life. ... I just had to do it. I just had to go. It means everything."

Morcos cracked a bone in his left arm in January while snowboarding and had to stop swimming completely for two weeks before beginning rehab.

"I just wanted to know if I could swim. The second they told me I couldn't swim, I stopped listening," Morcos said. "Everything just tuned out and I was like, 'Oh, no, this is bad.'"

Morcos said swimming against some of the powerful teams from the SCC served as a lesson. The Vikings will now compete in the Class LL state championship because of their cooperative status with NFA.

"I like going against these teams," Morcos said. "They showed me I had to go harder. If I could beat one of them, I could beat anybody."

— ECC award winners are as follows:

Scholar-Athlete: Mingwen Duan (East Lyme), John Chirico (Fitch), Alistair Haglund (Waterford).

Sportsmanship: Caleb Blanchard (East Lyme), Robert Vegara (Fitch), Andrew Bertrand (Waterford).

v.fulkerson@theday.com

ECC Swimming and Diving Invitational

At East Lyme

200-yard medley relay — 1. Fitch (Evan Hespeler, Gabriel Pacheco, Joel Hespeler, Valentino Tippets), 1:50.22; 2. Waterford, 3. East Lyme.

200 freestyle — 1. William O'Donnell (Fitch), 1:55.33; 2. Connor Foerster (East Lyme), 3. Ian Liu (East Lyme), 4. John Chirico (Fitch), 5. Mason Huoppi (Waterford), 6. Blake Laney (Fitch).

200 individual medley — 1. Gabriel Pacheco (Fitch), 2:08.70; 2. Alexander Startz (Waterford), 3. Robert Vergara (Fitch), 4. Robert Chasteen (Fitch), 5. Joshua Payne (East Lyme).

50 freestyle — 1. Sterling Welsh (Fitch), 23.19; 2. Nikolas Vajdos (Waterford), 3. Eduardo Marcos (East Lyme), 4. Ryan Zhuang (East Lyme), 5. Valentino Tippets (Fitch), 6. Aiden Minogue (East Lyme).

Diving — 1. Ethan Jones (Waterford), 129.50.

100 butterfly — 1. Evan Hespeler (Fitch), 55.63; 2. Alexander Startz (Waterford), 3. John Chirico (Fitch), 4. Caleb Blanchard (East Lyme).

100 freestyle — 1. Eduardo Morcos (East Lyme), 51.84; 2. Sterling Welsh (Fitch), 3. Nikolas Vajdos (Waterford), 4. Ryan Zhuang (East Lyme), 5. Andrew Bertrand (Waterford), 6. Blake Laney (Fitch).

500 freestyle — 1. Connor Foerster (East Lyme), 5:18.23; 2. William O'Donnell (Fitch), 3. Ian Liu (East Lyme), 4. Joel Hespeler (Fitch), 5. Sean Robinson (Waterford), 6. Milenko Miltenberger (East Lyme).

200 freestyle relay — 1. Fitch (Gabriel Pacheco, William O'Donnell, Valentino Tippets, Sterling Welsh), 1:38.52; 2. Waterford, 3. East Lyme A, 4. East Lyme B.

100 backstroke — 1. Evan Hespeler (Fitch), 56.55; 2. Ethan Jones (Waterford), 3. Valentino Tippets (Fitch), 4. Joel Hespeler (Fitch), 5. Mason Huoppi (Waterford), 6. Caleb Blanchard (East Lyme).

100 breaststroke — 1. Gabriel Pacheco (Fitch), 2. Robert Vergara (Fitch), 3. Robert Chasteen (Fitch), 4. Sean Robinson (Waterford), 5. Joshua Payne (East Lyme).

400 freestyle relay — 1. Fitch (Sterling Welsh, John Chirico, William O'Donnell, Evan Hespeler), 3:35.68.