Luke Giguere, Belchertown put it all together as Orioles capture Central/West Swimming championship

Belchertown boys swimming celebrates its first Central/West title in school history after capturing first place during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College.

Belchertown boys swimming celebrates its first Central/West title in school history after capturing first place during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

The Belchertown 400 freestyle relay team that took first during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. Left to right: Ryan Shea, Luke Giguere, JR Zlogar, Ryan Gould.

The Belchertown 400 freestyle relay team that took first during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. Left to right: Ryan Shea, Luke Giguere, JR Zlogar, Ryan Gould. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

Northampton’s Jack Mattison-Gulotta (middle) following one of his two first-place finishes during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. Mattison-Gulotta won the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly.

Northampton’s Jack Mattison-Gulotta (middle) following one of his two first-place finishes during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. Mattison-Gulotta won the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

Northampton’s Reed Mitchell (middle) smiles on the podium after earning first place in the 100 breaststroke during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College.

Northampton’s Reed Mitchell (middle) smiles on the podium after earning first place in the 100 breaststroke during Sunday’s Central/West Swimming Championships at Springfield College. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-11-2024 3:35 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Luke Giguere emerged from the water, and his eyes immediately darted to the scoreboard in the Springfield College pool. When he saw “BELCHERTOWN” accompanied by the number one, his emotions took over.

Giguere slapped the water and let out a huge scream, as his unreal final leg (46.62 seconds) in the 400-yard freestyle relay helped the Orioles come from behind to defeat Longmeadow by less than three-tenths of a second. Ryan Shea, JR Zlogar and Ryan Gould took care of the first three legs to help put Giguere in a good position for the comeback.

Not only did Giguere’s anchor solidify a win in the event, it also capped off Belchertown’s first MIAA Central/West Swimming championship in program history – running away with first place by over 36 points on Sunday.

The Orioles (275.5 points) took first, while Minnechaug (239), Longmeadow (178), Northampton (167) and Westfield (159) rounded out the top five.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to make a comeback for the win like that in a relay, so it was really special to me,” Giguere said. “That feeling was something I’ve never experienced before, and just seeing the first place next to ‘Belchertown’ made me really happy.”

Belchertown head coach Johanna Manduley anxiously stood off to the side during the relay – which was the final event of the day. When Giguere touched the wall just before Longmeadow, tears filled her eyes.

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There couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the day.

“My emotion was just all pride, because I’m so proud of these guys,” Manduley said. “I’ve coached them for years and I know the amount of work they put in, and I know the resiliency it takes to get this. They deserved every bit of it. They did it. They put the work in, I was just here for support.”

Aside from the 400 freestyle relay, Giguere was part of the Orioles’ 200 medley relay team (along with Gould, Zlogar and Shea) which posted a time of 1:39.29, good for first place.

The senior also won the 200 individual medley (1:57.56) and 100 backstroke (52.72) to make it four first-place medals dangling around his neck by the end of the day.

“I think this is crazy,” Giguere said of his standout day. “The relays, I’ve never been able to be on top this much. Individuals, I’ve been on top the last two years, but having other teammates step up and push themselves during their relay splits was really great. I’m proud of everyone on our team.”

While the individual awards are nice, Giguere was quick to mention he was more thrilled Belchertown won as a team. Being on the podium with his best friends, holding the first-place trophy; that was the sweetest moment of them all.

“I didn’t think we would be able to do this at any point in my career,” Giguere said. “It’s awesome being able to have the trophy and see everyone contribute as a team.”

Zlogar added two fourth-place finishes in the 200 individual medley (2:06.56) and 100 butterfly (54.71) to his efforts in the relays, while Gould came in fourth in the 100 backstroke (56.96) and eighth in the 100 freestyle (51.50) to bring home key points for the team. Shea had podium finishes in the 100 freestyle (sixth, 51.40) and 50 freestyle (eighth, 23.07), Caleb Perrone took fifth in the 100 butterfly (56.94) and Drake Dragon grabbed seventh in the 500 freestyle (5:13.86) to cap off Belchertown’s podium finishers.

The Orioles had their eyes on the title when they woke up on Sunday, and they snatched it with a true team effort.

“I knew this is what they wanted, and I’m just glad I could help them achieve that goal,” Manduley said. “It’s huge for them. It’s huge.”

Belchertown will next compete in the MIAA Division 2 state championships next Sunday at MIT at 3:45 p.m.

Northampton grabs fourth, several individual winners

The Blue Devils had only five swimmers and one diver at Sunday’s meet, one of the smaller contingents to compete. But they didn’t care if that was the case.

Northampton continued to catapult up the team scoreboard all day, and finished fourth with 167 points. Prior to the 400 freestyle relay, an event Northampton didn’t compete in, the Blue Devils were in third place.

“Being in third place going into the final relay wasn’t even on our radar,” Northampton coach Peter Davis admitted. “But they swam so well, and they came together as a team. I couldn’t be prouder of how the team finished today. Our diver [Tyler Palm] had his best diving of the year, and everyone contributed in some way today. I’m just really proud of them.”

Seniors Jack Mattison-Gulotta and Reed Mitchell each won individual events for Northampton. Mattison-Gulotta earned his first-ever title in the 200-yard freestyle (1:43.14) in the day’s second event.

He wasn’t done there, as Mattison-Gulotta then gutted out a win in the 100 butterfly (50.77) after getting out to a stellar start and coasting the rest of the way.

“This means so much, especially because it’s my senior year,” Mattison-Gulotta said. “It’s really cool and I’m just super happy. I’ve been to a lot of meets where I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, and now it’s my turn to be on top. It’s awesome. Now I have some things to work on before I try to do it again at states.”

Mitchell felt he had trained as hard as he could to put himself in the best position to win on Sunday, and was he certainly right. In what is his last week competing at the high school level, Mitchell couldn’t have picked a better time for his first individual title.

He built a sizable lead early in the race, but began to slow down toward the end. Despite his lead nearly slipping away, the senior managed to emerge victorious – tying his season-best time of 1:01.69.

“My biceps and my legs were on fire,” Mitchell said. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. I know I’m capable, I know I’m fast, I know I can win this right now – so I gotta put every single ounce of energy I have into it.’ If the race was a meter longer, he probably would’ve caught me. But it wasn’t.”

Northampton had two relay teams (200 medley and 200 freestyle) place in the top five. Mattison-Gulotta, Mitchell, Theo Bayne and Gus Fallon made up the fourth-place medley relay team (1:43.76), while Cole Mattison-Gulotta filled in for Bayne on the fifth-place freestyle relay team (1:36.82).

Bayne took seventh in the 100 butterfly (57.89) and Mitchell finished sixth in the 50 freestyle (22.80), while diver Tyler Palm (fourth, 408.85) posted a season-best on the 1-meter board to capture big points for the Blue Devils.

“The boys really stepped up and did a great job, every single one of them across the board,” Davis said. “They put themselves in a really good spot to know what they have to do going into next weekend.”

Amherst, Holyoke relish experience on big stage

The Hurricanes only competed in the 400 freestyle relay, as seniors Zack Dixon and Grant Donta-Venman said goodbye to their high school careers with Amherst.

Dixon and Donta-Venman have been swimming together since eighth grade, so to compete one last time together in a championship setting was a storybook ending.

“We have two seniors in that relay, so we wanted them to really feel the impact of swimming their last high school race,” Amherst coach Denise Leckenby said. “They were happy to close out their careers today. Zack and Grant have been swimming together since they were eight, so it was nice for them to have this opportunity.”

Joe Hazlip and Soren Castenson joined the two seniors as they posted a time of 4:03.08, shaving over two seconds off their initial seed time.

For Holyoke, Brady Pijar was the lone point-getter. The junior was responsible for all 29 of the Purple Knights’ points (16th place), as he came in fourth in the 50 freestyle (22.54) and fifth in the 100 freestyle (50.30).