Scarsdale swimmers Justin DiSanto and David Zoota started the season in championship form. Senior DiSanto hit last year’s state cut times in the 200 individual medley and the 100 freestyle, junior Zoota in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke, and they set school records in 3 of the 4 events.
DiSanto broke records in both individual events, 1:54.11 for the 200 IM and 47.42 seconds in the 100 free, while Zoota’s record was in the 100 backstroke in 52.92 seconds.
What added to their remarkable achievements was the fact that they did it in their first-ever virtual high school meet, which was split up over two days on Jan. 21-22, with Scarsdale at the YWCA pool in White Plains, opponent New Rochelle at their home pool in their own high school.
“I definitely knew there was a possibility, but with this year not swimming at real meets with people we’re actually competing against, I really didn’t know how well I would do,” Zoota said. “It was a two-day meet and I did very well on the first day, so it came into view it was a possibility and I was very happy I got it. It was around my lifetime best time.”
There were new COVID-19 protocols on the pool deck, no fans in the stands and youth swim lessons happening simultaneously in two lanes of the pool, so the vibe was extremely different than past years.
“We told our teammates we were going for the records and we’d appreciate if they really cheered for us,” DiSanto said. “Even though there wasn’t another team to race, you still had your team pushing you inside the pool and outside of the pool. Happily we got the outcome we were looking for and hopefully we can set more in the future and continue swimming how we are.”
Coach Inga DeNunzio wasn’t sure how the new scenario for swimming would affect her swimmers as they chased the records, but any doubts were cleared up right away.
“That was my hope because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” DeNunzio said. “Justin was on the brink of breaking multiple records last season and I really wanted to give him a chance to take those records with him as part of his legacy at Scarsdale because he deserves them.”
DiSanto, who committed to swim at Bucknell, was the Section 1 50 freestyle champion last winter. “The virtual sectionals, I don’t know how that is going to work out, but I’m excited because I think we have a very good chance of winning it this year,” DiSanto said.
DeNunzio doesn’t know how the trials and finals will work or how the potential in-person diving would go either, but the real victory is happening now. “That is something to look forward to, but we’ve already cleared the hurdle of being in the water together, so I think everything from this point on is just going to be the cherry on top,” she said.
There will be no state meet this year.
“I guess it’s disappointing there isn’t going to be states this year, especially for Justin, because he’s a senior, and we also have a really strong team and we’d do well,” Zoota said. “There’s next year for many of us and I’m hoping this will bring us into a strong year next year where we can do well.”
Zoota made states for the first time last year and enjoyed the overall experience and team environment. That won’t happen this year, but that doesn’t change the team’s drive to succeed.
“A best time is a best time and I’m just as happy doing a best time in the YWCA pool as I would be at the states pool,” Zoota said.
In the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, DiSanto and Zoota teamed with sophomore Aidan Lee and freshman Kevin Jiang and in the 200 medley they hit a would-be state cut.
Jiang also won his two individual races in his varsity debut, taking first in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
“Kevin is already on the 200 medley relay and in past years we’ve always struggled to make state cuts and in our first meet the first relay of the season we got the state cut,” DiSanto said. “And he’s a freshman who could be going to states if they were holding them this year. It’s nice to add a guy like that.”
A major difference in meets is that the times are later entered into the Section 1 swim website and then the places and points are tallied automatically, so it’s not happening in real time. The swimmers have no clue if a race or a meet is close.
“That is something I like about it,” DiSanto said. “In years past if you’re racing and you know you’re winning or losing maybe you’ll stop trying. This time you have to try as hard as possible each race because you don’t know who you’re against and you don’t want to take the risk of losing that race.”
With Westchester Community College unavailable, Scarsdale was able to secure limited, shared, often not ideal time at the YWCA, but at this point they had to take what they could get.
“There’s the Y to be thankful for, the school to be thankful for, because they had to do a bunch of jumping around to get this to happen,” DeNunzio said. “With all the restrictions and protocols we have in place there are big hurdles that are sadly becoming the norm, but I’ll jump through whatever hoops I need to, to get these guys something.”
The first meet was contested over two days because DeNunzio was unsure if the time allotted to her for one day would be enough. As it turns out it was, so the rest of the season the meets will be on one day.
“It was probably the most nerve-wracking pre-meet I’ve had to go through and I’ve been coaching for 20 years,” DeNunzio said of opening day. “I had no idea what to expect because everybody is going through something different. Their virtual meet is going to be different than our virtual meet. I was nervous, but as I spoke to the officials and I spoke to the boys right as the meet started I definitely breathed a sigh of relief that I knew we were all going to get through this and figure it out. It was a hurdle and we did it.”
Another big change is that there are two officials at each meet venue, instead of three, a starter and a turn judge. There were disqualifications for both teams in the opening meet.
DeNunzio is hoping to find an opportunity for her three divers, senior Eddie Eforo, sophomore Haochen Liu and freshman Harley Koch to compete. “We are really working hard to try and find something,” she said.
DeNunzio and many of the swimmers have had a chance to get used to virtual meets and COVID-19 protocols during the fall club season, though this was the first time they experienced relays.
“We keep things pretty stringent,” DeNunzio said. “Me being a Middie coach also, we’ve run some mini-meets from September on, so I understand the protocol and I’m very comfortable with it, so I’m just making the boys do the same thing.”
The swimmers keep masks on until it is their turn to swim. There is a bucket they can put their masks and shirts in and when they are down they get out, put their masks on and walk to the other side of the pool while the area is disinfected between races.
“I hadn’t done relays yet, so that was kind of new and one ended up diving in with his mask still on his face,” DeNunzio said. “He did rip it off and continued swimming.”
Zoota said at a club practice he jumped in with his mask on, but remembered before he submerged his head under water. He said that when he walks to the blocks masked he has to redo his swim cap and goggles because, like the masks, thy go over his ears. It’s just another adjustment, he said.
Based on the team’s participation this winter there is enough room between the pool deck and the stands, since no spectators are allowed, to have everyone present and socially distanced at each meet, though getting in extra heats of races likely won’t happen.
With one meet down and four to go, plus postseason, DeNunzio feels good about everything that happens going forward.
“I’m ecstatic and the only goal for this upcoming school year was to give these guys something they deserved, something they should have, to spend time with their team regardless of competition or not,” she said. “I think we as a team wanted to be together and if we could find a way to do it I’m glad we did.”
Not only did the first meet further pump DeNunzio up for the season, but for the future as well.
“The freshman class has a lot of great swimmers, a lot of great kids, a bunch I’ve known since they were quite young and it’s just exciting,” she said. “I’m just excited for this season and whatever we get out of it and I’m excited for the future. Scarsdale Raiders swimming and diving is definitely ready to go.”