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July 28, 2009

 

Little summer rest for Stingers

Swimming

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
YMCA Stinger Kelsey Elliott swims the backstroke leg of the 200 IM Saturday.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Summertime swimmers usually prefer a sandy beach bathed in sunshine or the cooling waters of a nearby lake. There are public and backyard swimming pools to dive into, along with ponds and rivers for those looking for a refreshing splash.
There is also McDonald Pool.
For a few hours every day this four-laned, 25-yard home of the Stingers swim team, located within the walls of the Cortland County Family YMCA on Tompkins Street, is not a locale for leisurely relaxation. For some 36 team members, this is hardly a place for summer vacation recreation as they dutifully put in the laps and the hard work necessary to lay the foundation for future success.
Not that the effort can’t be fun, not to mention rewarding.
“The things they learn here, you have for a lifetime,” said Stingers head coach Mike Kennedy during a recent practice session. “It’s not just swimming technique, it’s the hard work and dedication and work ethic that make all things achievable.”
The group currently churning up the McDonald Pool waters is about half of the regular squad that competes during the winter months, the Stingers coming off a successful dual meet campaign where only arch rival Auburn got the best of Cortland.
Earlier this month they distinguished themselves against larger programs at the Southern Tier Swimming Championships held in Lansing, finishing fifth with just a 17-team contingent. Emily Elliott in the girls’ 10-and-Under age group and Quinn Kennedy in the boys’ 12-and-Under age group won Southern Tier titles.
Coach Kennedy, Quinn’s dad, also pointed out a couple of non-swimming newcomers who joined the workouts in May came up with Top 10 showings at the meet, another indication of how hard work pays off.
This past Saturday the Stingers had an informal meet against a team from Lowville to test their mettle — Lowville ironically the main high school rival of the Holland Patent High School team where Coach Kennedy starred during his scholastic days.
When legendary taskmaster Dick Williams grabbed a hold of the program back in the late 1960s, the Stingers emerged as one of the top YMCA squads in the state on an annual basis. Though Williams passed away a year and a half ago, and the program continues the success he created.
Mike Falls has been an invaluable leader of the coaching staff in recent years, but job commitments will limit his time pool-side. Kennedy, who started as a volunteer before evolving onto the coaching staff, will lead the way for the upcoming 2009-10 season.
Some former Stingers have returned to help run practices this summer, too — Noah Beck, Natalie Winters and Alexandria Pizzola. While Winters (Elmira College) and Pizzola (Siena College) will be headed off to school soon, Beck will stay on to help Falls coach the Gold Group of swimmers who are 13-year-old and older. Ally Lee returns to help out with the Blue Group of swimmers ages 6-12, and SUNY Cortland students usually provide a helping hand each season, too.
While the Stingers wind down their summer sessions, practice for the regular season begins on Sept. 14 at McDonald Pool. The Blue Group practices from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The Gold Group works out from 5-6:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays with a 7:30-9 p.m. session on Wednesday. The entire team is in the pool from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday mornings.The Stingers compete in dual meets with other YMCA teams from Auburn, Fulton, Norwich, Oneonta, Oswego and Watertown. Boys and girls compete in their own age groups, Class E (8-and-Under), Class D (9-10), Class C (11-12), Class B (13-14) and Class A (15-18).
The District Championships in February features all those league teams, leading to the state meet in March. Cortland has also had Stingers qualify on to the YMCA National Championships held annually in Fort Lauderdale in Florida — and even had a national backstroke champion in Seth Williams not too long ago. Williams, former coach Dick Williams’ nephew, went on to be a captain at Syracuse University.
“I feel strongly we’ll be sending someone to nationals this year,” said Coach Kennedy, the Stingers also adept at sending swimmers on to the collegiate ranks.
The Stingers are one of the few YMCA squads who also compete in USA Swimming competitions, such as the recent Southern Tier meet. “That gives the kids all kinds of options,” noted Coach Kennedy. The Stingers have Dick Williams’ grandson, Nick Eckhardt, competing in California this summer in a national competition under the USA Swimming banner.
Those wishing to tryout for the team can participate free for the first week before deciding to make a commitment to the program.
Meanwhile, the work continues inside McDonald Pool. “These kids try hard and have great results,” says Kennedy.