North Providence swim teams dive into uncharted waters

North Providence swim teams dive into uncharted waters

North Providence High juniors Andrea Cortes, above, shown competing in the 100-meter butterfly during a meet last winter, and Cassie Russo, right, are two of the top swimmers back from last year’s girls’ swim team that broke eight school records on its way to capturing the Division III championship.
Fresh off championship seasons, Cougars await virtual meets in new division

NORTH PROVIDENCE – This is going to be a very interesting season for the North Providence High boys’ and girls’ swim teams, and that’s not just because the Cougars are moving up to the RIIL’s second division for their dual meets.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s Phase 3 guidelines, which have forced every high school sport to make its share of modifications during this crazy 2020-21 scholastic year, have also laid the groundwork for what will be a truly unusual season in the pool.

For the Cougars, it means virtual tri-meets on Friday afternoons – and probably waiting 24-48 hours that weekend to see if they defeated or lost to the two opponents they were scheduled to face that week.

It means limited access to the North Providence Pool & Fitness Center – two-hour split-squad workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays and their meets on Fridays – and dry-land workouts and conditioning drills on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And it means question marks across the board as to if, how, when, and where the Cougars will compete in the Division II and state championship meets.

“I said to the kids at our meeting last week that this (season) is something, and anything is better than nothing,” said head coach Crystal Bogizian. “We’re going to be a team this year, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to share some great afternoons in the pool, and that’s really the name of the game.”

Bozigian, who will again be assisted by Steve Muccino, did her best to answer some questions about her teams’ season, which got underway on Monday with its afternoon workouts at their pool. But before talking about the present and the future, she took a glance back at last season’s successful performances by her Cougars.

The girls’ team, which posted an 8-1 mark in the Brother Anthony Division that was its best record in team history, also won its first Division III title in its 20-year history by breaking eight school records in 11 events at the championship meet at Roger Williams University.

And the boys not only captured the regular-season championship with an 8-0 mark that was their first unbeaten season in a decade, but they also took second place at the Division II championship meet for the second time in three years.

Only a handful of the Cougars’ top swimmers graduated last June, and most of the 36 swimmers on the boys’ and girls’ rosters have two or three seasons of varsity experience. That veteran presence should help both teams navigate their way through this wild seven-week campaign.

Nearly two-thirds of the Cougars’ swimmers are on the boys’ squad, which will be led by its four senior captains, Jason Kudish, Tony Azevedo, and the Cotoia brothers, Vin and Jeff. Also back are junior Oscar Camacho and sophomores Nick Camacho and Nick Pistacchio, who also made stellar contributions last winter.

The girls, meanwhile, return five swimmers who helped rewrite most of their team’s record book, including senior Valentina Lopez, who along with classmate Meta Konte, are NP’s captains. Juniors Andrea Cortes and Cassie Russo had monster seasons again, and sophomores Autumn Card and Christine Pietkiewicz swam very well in their high school debuts.

The Cougars’ Stoyko Division opener will be on Friday, Jan. 22, at 3:30 p.m. against Smithfield, which is also taking a leap from the Brother Anthony Division, and Rogers. While fans aren’t allowed to watch the meet, two officials will be present at the North Providence pool. Two scoring lanes will be used, and a third will be reserved for exhibition swimmers.

Rogers and Smithfield will also swim at their respective home pools, but they can choose any day during the week to compete in the virtual affair.

“A third party at the RIIL will analyze all the times from the three schools and come up with the places,” said Bozigian. “We will compete against Rogers and Smithfield and Rogers and Smithfield will also swim against each other, and we will find out sometime that weekend if we go 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2.”

The Cougars will continue their virtual tri-meets for the next three Fridays after their opener and take on Classical, which is also moving up a division, Cranston East, Middletown, South Kingstown, Westerly, and Wheeler.

Classical was NP’s toughest opponent last winter, with the girls posting a 9-0 record and the boys ending up with a 7-1 mark. Wheeler is down from the Division I-based Rossi Division, and Cranston East and Westerly were two of the top teams in the Stoyko Division last year.

“I’m very excited for those meets,” added Bozigian. “Last year, we faced some teams that didn’t have a lot of swimmers or some schools that didn’t have boys’ teams. But everyone here has a girls’ and a boys’ team, and it would have been cool to have a normal season and see some really good competition.”

The attention will then shift to the final two weekends of February to see if and when there will be a division and a state championship meet and how they will be held.

“We have no information on that yet, but the league said that (holding those meets) is their goal,” noted Bozigian. “And they want in-person division and state meets, so we’ll see what happens.”

Regardless of what happens after the Cougars’ regular season is in the books, “to have a season is going to be a highlight, regardless of what it turns out to be,” added Bozigian. “I’m just excited that the seniors are getting one more season. You feel terrible for the seniors who were going to play spring sports last year, and who knows what’s going to happen with our football team this spring.”

“I’m confident that the procedures and policies in place this season are going to keep people safe,” she continued. “And I truly think that we’ll be okay with what we have set up at the pool and what the league has set up for us with guidelines. We just want to get back in the water. We might not break any records or post our best times, but just clocking times is going to be a win for us this year.”

North Providence High’s Vin Cotoia, shown competing in the 100-meter breaststroke during a meet last season, is one of the boys’ team’s four senior captains this winter. The boys ended last winter’s dual-meet schedule with an 8-0 mark.