The Staples High School boys swim team is making quite a splash this winter.
But — at least in the local media — they haven’t even caused a ripple.
What a shame.
Last week, the Wreckers beat Greenwich.
The last time that happened was 1979 — nearly 40 years ago. And the time before that — Staples’ only other swimming win over the Cardinals — came in 1970. That day, the water in the small Westport YMCA pool was so murky, no one could see the turns.
How good is Greenwich? Under coach Terry Lowe, they’ve won 34 state open championships, and 24 class LL (extra large school) crowns. They’ve also won captured a mind-boggling 46 FCIAC titles, over the past 47 seasons.
They make the Yankees and Celtics of the 20th century — or, more recently, the Patriots — look like the early New York Mets.
Yet last week, Staples out-swam the Cards. In fact, they drowned them. The final score was 110-76.
It was quite a victory for the Wreckers. And for first-year coach Jeff Bonaccorso.
That’s right. This is his rookie season with this high school team.
He took over after Frisk Driscoll moved to Fairfield University. Of course, Bonaccorso is hardly a fish out of water. He’s aquatics director at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the fall, coaches the Ridgefield High girls squad.
The Staples/Westport Y connection is strong. Many Wreckers grew up in the Water Rats program, directed by the legendary Ellen Johnston. Most continue to compete on both teams — even during the high school season.
That’s true for Staples 2 captains, Josiah Tarrant and Scott Adler. They began swimming almost before they could walk. Pool water courses through their veins — and they race through their lanes faster than everyone else.
Still, both were a bit apprehensive when Driscoll left.
“I never thought we’d see another coach like Frisk,” Adler says. “But Jeff exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
The two men have very different styles. Driscoll always had a set lineup. Bonaccorso makes changes based on whoever the other team puts in the water. Plus, Adler says, “he’s super-competitive and a great motivator.”
Entering the season, the captains had high hopes. They finished 3rd at last year’s FCIACs — and graduated only a few, non-scoring seniors.
Still, admits Adler, despite their confidence they were “not sure about Greenwich and Ridgefield.”
Two weeks before the Cardinal meet, Staples met the Tigers — a team with 5 great swimmers, including 2 Olympic trial hopefuls. What Adler calls “the most exciting and closest dual meet of my life” — with an “insanely loud” home crowd — came down to the final relay.
Ridgefield won. But by placing 2nd and 3rd, the Wreckers amassed enough points to eke out a 94-92 victory.
Then came Greenwich.
Again at home — with more packed, roaring fans, including the girls’ team — Staples took down the state’s most legendary swimming power.
How did they do it?
“Hard work,” says Tarrant. “I know it’s a cliche. But we’re in the pool from 5:30 to 7 in the morning before school, a few days a week. Then we’re in again, from 3 to 5 every day.”
Their rigorous practice schedule — and all the coaching, from Johnston, Driscoll and Bonaccorso — are paying off.
“Everyone thinks swimming is an individual sport,” Tarrant notes. “At the club level, it is. But on the high school pool deck, there’s so much camaraderie.
“It’s not just about the fastest guy. The 5th guy gets a point, and every point matters.
“We constantly push each other in practice. We always cheer for each other. These are my brothers.”
“It’s nice to see a direct connection between hard work and the end result,” Adler adds. “You really see it come to fruition.
But Tarrant and Adler are not basking in the glow of their press clippings. (Whoops — sorry. There weren’t any.)
“This is only the beginning,” Tarrant notes. “The championships are what really matter.”
The FCIAC meet is February 27-March 1 — at Greenwich. Hey, why not?!
Then come the state LL and open championships.
It won’t be easy upending Greenwich in the post-season. The Cardinals have a ton of swimmers — they brought 2 busloads to the dual meet — and numbers count.
But one thing is certain. When the record board that hangs over the Staples pool is updated in March, nearly every event will now include a 2018 swimmer.
You may not read about the Wreckers’ accomplishments elsewhere.
But this year’s team has written a new chapter in the history books.
(For more on the Staples swim team, click here.)