Summer swim meets go by stroke and by age group, from freestyle youngest to oldest to backstroke to breaststroke to butterfly with diving and relays sandwiched around those individual swimming events.
So when 13-year coach Inga DeNunzio watches that first freestyle event of the season, sees those little 6-and-unders kicking off the season — many of them their swimming careers — it’s a flurry of emotions.
“You ever get butterflies when you’re about to do something? Try watching other kids do it and it’s got to be 10 times worse,” she said. “The first one is always nerve-wracking, but it’s the cutest thing ever. I’m just happy they are out there and we’re filling all the lanes. And look how great they look.”
That was the scene at Larchmont Shore Club on Monday, July 1, as Scarsdale opened the competitive season with a 238-215 loss to the host team.
Scarsdale had many standout performances, including Alex Dyakin winning 13- and 17-and-under boys diving; Lori Jiang winning 1-u girls freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly; Kevin Jiang taking first in 14-u boys backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly; and John Solie touching first in 17-u boys freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.
After two summers in Division 2, Scarsdale returns to Division 1 of the Westchester County Swim Conference after going undefeated last year. The meets are more challenging, but DeNunzio feels she has the competitors to stay up. There are 107 on the team.
“This is probably the most depth we’ve had in a while, but we have a lot of kids and a lot of first years, too,” she said. “A lot of new news. There’s probably 20 or 25 brand new members to the team and half are brand new to Scarsdale and they’re joining up. It’s spread out and a lot is in the middle with the 10-12 range.”
That said, top swimmers like David Zoota, Aidan Wilson, Kevin Jiang and Lori Jiang will lead the charge along with some other strong families of swimmers and divers.
“It’s Division 1, so until you get a couple of meets in and seeing what everyone else has it’s hard to say,” DeNunzio said. “Larchmont beat Wykagyl by a point on Friday. I’m just happy to be here and I want to stay here for a couple of years.”
Preseason was tough with the weather and many swimmers are away for the beginning of the season. With county seeds due soon, it’s already crunch time for a season with five dual meets in 18 days.
“You just do what you gotta do,” DeNunzio said. “After today it will be a little bit better because we’ll have more families back. Next week will be a tough one because we go right into Lake Isle. It’s exciting and I’ll get to swim all my kids, so that’s definitely exciting. And we’ll have a week of practice with good weather.”
One of the biggest pushes continues to be toward building a larger diving team.
“It’s honestly the most stressful email that I send at the beginning of the season: Is my diving coach coming back?” DeNunzio said. “It’s the hardest position to figure out. You can put anybody into a coaching position with swimming because you’re following suit with that’s going on with the rest of the team, but diving is so specific. It’s difficult.”
It’s been a mission for DeNunzio since she took over the team and she’s been blessed with strong diving coaches over the years. Thankfully 2017 Scarsdale High School graduate Nick Leone, a seemingly lifelong member of the team and now fourth-year coach, returned this summer.
“To try to get a team to make more divers, I want to do that,” DeNunzio said. “Diving is a great sport and if you’re exposed to the right coaches it’s something they will stay for a while. A good dive program is something I’ve tried to get going and having Nick has been amazing.”
This year, Maddie Seltzer, a rising Scarsdale junior and accomplished diver, is serving as an assistant coach and might even get on the board for some meets.
“Adding Maddie also is going to be helpful,” DeNunzio said. “We haven’t had a female dive coach in a while. We’ve had male divers and we’d like to get more female divers. We’re trying to get that girl power going.”
Leone has a core of divers who have been training for five or more years, led by the likes of Dyakin and 10-u Tessa Leroy. “A lot of experience, so I’m excited and it should be a good year for us,” Leone said.
The diving program, like the swimming program, is a perfect combination of fun and hard work.
“It’s really cool because I kind of see a lot of myself in some of the kids,” Leone said. “I try and have the same fun with them that I had here. Though we practice hard and were serious we also play a lot of games. I like to keep it fun, keep it light because it’s really about kids having a good time in the summer.”
Scoring points is also helpful. “It’s the first thing you have in a meet and it’s a jumpstart to the meet,” Leone said. “Getting a lead at the beginning is huge. Swimming is worth a little more, but diving is a good way to start off the day, especially if you start off well.”