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MIAA cancels swim championships; western Masssachusetts hopes for reversal

The MIAA cancelled all sectional swim championships Thursday due to the snowstorn scheduled to hit the region Friday and Saturday. Local teams held out hope a better solution could be found.

The MIAA cancelled all sectional swim championships Thursday due to the snowstorn scheduled to hit the region Friday and Saturday. Local teams held out hope a better solution could be found. Purchase photo reprints »

Northampton girls swimming coach Jim Hirtle hasn’t officially thrown in the towel on the Western Massachusetts championships, but he’s holding the towel in his hand.

Due to the impending weekend storm, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association made the decision Thursday afternoon to cancel all sectional meets in the state because the Eastern Mass. championships couldn’t possibly be rescheduled. The MIAA website stated that “facility and time constraints prohibit the rescheduling of these events.”

But the area’s swimming community is holding out hope for a reconsideration.

“This is pretty ridiculous,” Hirtle said. “I understand the East can’t be rescheduled, but it stinks on our end. The kids are extremely disappointed, but hopefully something can be pulled together at the last minute.”

A reinstatement of the meet, which Hirtle projected as a 40 percent chance, would need to be announced by this afternoon.

“I don’t see the MIAA changing its position,” said Hirtle. “In the end, I think it will be too difficult to get this all together in such a short period of time. But the athletic directors are doing a great job banding together and asking the MIAA to reconsider. They’re all going to bat for our kids.”

The problem apparently isn’t the site, as Springfield College left its Linkletter Natatorium available for Sunday in case of a postponement.

“The biggest issue is liability, someone has to be liable to Springfield College if something bad happens,” he said. “Without the MIAA doing that, it’s hard to run a swim meet.”

He added, “I don’t know how far up the chain of command you have to go, but maybe if one of the bigger school districts can take on the liability, I don’t think Springfield College would have a problem with putting the meet back on. But it’s going to be hard to get someone to take on that liability.”

Expecting to hear of a postponement Thursday and getting completely different news, only one word truly described his team’s reaction.

“My kids were devastated,” he said. “The wind went right out of their sails. My senior captains were really looking forward to the meet. Preparing for this meet was one of our goals all season, and we had a good chance to do very well.”

The Blue Devils were among the top few teams set to compete for a team title on Saturday, along with Westfield and Minnechaug.

All state qualifiers from the regular season will advance to states, which leaves many hopefuls on the outside looking in, especially on the boys side.

“This decision wipes out most of western Mass. boys swimming, and that’s tough for these kids who’ve worked so hard,” said Hirtle. “Obviously they won’t all make a state cut, but a kid might have a good enough finish to help the team do well. That makes these kids feel good, and now they won’t have that opportunity. It’s very frustrating.”

If the meet remains off, Holyoke Catholic standout Meriza Werenski will miss an opportunity to further advance her perfect career run at sectionals. The six-time western Mass. champion has never finished anywhere but first at the meet.

“I figured it would be postponed but you’d think they could find another time to have it,” said Werenski. “I understand that other parts of the state can’t have their meets and it would be unfair to them, but it’s still a bummer for us. I hoped to put up the best times possible. Once you get into a meet like that, the adrenaline rush picks you up and gets you amped to do even better. So it’s certainly a missed opportunity.”

But as much as she’s disappointed personally, Werenski expressed regret for her teammates and friends who train at the Holyoke YMCA, such as fellow sectional champions Delaney Dyjak of Holyoke Catholic and Easthampton’s Jess Harper.

“We all know each other and swim together, and even former swimmers who are in college now texted me and expressed their frustration,” said Werenski. “So it’s tough for everyone who’s ever been involved in western Mass. swimming. We were all really excited to swim, and everyone was focusing in on getting ready for the meet.”

The four-time All-American now turns her attention to states, where she’s already won five times in her illustrious career. The challenge for all competitors will be overcoming a two-week break since the final regular-season meets.

“You just need to work really hard in practice and keep yourself motivated,” she said. “I always try to keep the end goal in mind, which is to perform the best I can in every meet.”

Northampton has eight swimmers and two divers whose season will continue at the state championships.

“I think there’s a possibility for a top-five finish at states, but it’s going to be tough with such a long time off,” Hirtle said. “We expected to swim fast Saturday and then get back into preparing next week. This will take a bit of the edge off and the girls will be disappointed for a couple days, but hopefully we can refocus ourselves.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjwilk1237.

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