Cougars swim into D-III semifinals

Cougars swim into D-III semifinals

North Providence junior Andrea Cortes, shown in action in the 100-yard butterfly during last Friday afternoon’s Division II quarterfinal-round meet against Cranston East, captured that event in a time of 1:05.97 and the 500-yard freestyle in 6:04.58 to help the Cougars post a 49-44 victory. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Unbeaten boys’ team routs Rogers; girls take 49-44 thriller with Cranston East

NORTH PROVIDENCE – The excitement was back at the North Providence Pool & Fitness Center.

After spending four straight Friday afternoons competing in virtual regular-season meets, the North Providence High boys’ and girls’ swim teams were finally able to welcome opponents to their facility for last week’s Division II quarterfinal-round meets.

And while there was no drama at all in the boys’ meet last Wednesday, which saw the undefeated Cougars dunk winless Rogers, 59-12, and extend their dual-meet win streak to 22 meets, the girls’ meet two afternoons later against Cranston East contained plenty of suspense.

But thanks to junior Andrea Cortes and sophomore Christine Pietkiewicz grabbing the top two places in the 500-yard freestyle, and the 200-yard medley and freestyle relay squads winning their events, the 4th-seeded Cougars were able to top the 5th-seeded Thunderbolts, 49-44.

“The excitement’s there and the adrenaline’s there,” added NP head coach Crystal Bozigian, who saw her girls’ squad trail by a 26-24 score after six of the meet’s 11 events were in the books. “That’s what championship week is all about.”

And the rest of this week promises to be an interesting one, with the RIIL’s boys’ and girls’ championship meets scheduled for this weekend at the Pods Aquatics Center in East Providence. The boys’ teams will dive into the pool on Saturday, while the girls will compete the following day.

In order to reach the finals, the Cougars will have to tend to business in this week’s semifinals, and today, the girls’ squad will head to the Cranston YMCA’s pool for a 5:30 p.m. matchup against undefeated Classical, which posted a 64-30 win over NP during the virtual dual-meet campaign.

As for the boys’ team, they were back in action on Tuesday afternoon, facing 5th-seeded Wheeler at – surprisingly – the Warriors’ home pool at the Pods Center and not in their friendly confines of the NP Pool & Fitness Center.

It’s highly unusual for a higher-seeded team in any sport to choose to compete at the lower-seeded team’s facility during the postseason, but Bozigian had a couple of valid reasons why she decided to have her team swim on the road.

“We weighed the pros and cons,” she said. “Wheeler couldn’t swim here on Monday, so we’d get an extra practice, rather than go right into a meet off the weekend. And if we defeat Wheeler and get to the championship meet, that means that no other team in the bracket would have gotten a chance to swim at Pods this season. Those seemed like good reasons, and everyone’s reaction was positive when I told them.”

Swimming against Rogers for the second time in as many weeks, the Cougars won nine events and swam the other two as exhibitions in raising their record to 8-0, and remaining unbeaten in their events in eight meets were senior Jason Kudish in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:09.69), senior Tony Azevedo in the 50-yard freestyle (24.37 seconds), and the 200-yard medley relay team of junior Oscar Camacho, sophomore Taj Wehbe, Kudish, and Azevedo (1:54.64).

Kudish also won the 200-yard freestyle (1:58.25), and the Cougars’ other first places came from junior Matt Bourke (500-yard freestyle, 7:03.64), sophomore Nick Camacho (100-yard butterfly, 1:04.64), Oscar Camacho (100-yard freestyle, 59.19 seconds), Wehbe (200-yard individual medley, 2:20.30), and the 200-yard freestyle relay team of Nick Camacho, Oscar Camacho, Azevedo, and Wehbe (1:52.29).

Senior Jeff Cotoia also had a solid meet that saw him take second-place finishes in the 50-yard freestyle (27.74 seconds) and 100-yard butterfly (1:13.10) and swim the anchor legs on NP’s other 200-yard medley and freestyle relay teams that also finished second.

As for the girls’ meet, junior Cassie Russo and Cortes each captured a pair of individual events, as Russo won the 100-yard freestyle (1:01.04) and 100-yard backstroke (1:07.46) and Cortes seized the 100-yard butterfly (1:05.97) and the 500-yard freestyle, which saw her time of 6:04.58 edge Pietkiewicz by three-fourths of a second.

Thanks to those two finishes, the Cougars were able to claim a 31-27 lead, and that spiked to 38-30 in the next event when the 200-yard freestyle relay team of senior Valentina Lopez, sophomore Autumn Card, Cortes, and Russo took top honors in a time of 1:54.22.

“That was a lot closer than our actual virtual meet,” added Bozigian, referring to her team’s 52-40 victory two weeks ago. “You see who’s going up (in an event) and you can make changes (to the lineup), and you never know whose nerves might kick in. Today’s meet was race for race, feeling that adrenaline, and the girls being nervous again for a meet, which was good.”

Russo, Card, Cortes, and Pietkiewicz also teamed up to win the meet’s first event, the 200-yard medley relay, in a 2:00.77 time, and Pietkiewicz captured the next event, the 200-yard freestyle, in 2:16.21 to help give the Cougars an 11-7 lead. Card also placed second in the 200-yard individual medley (2:29.88) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:17.82).

North Providence sophomore Christine Pietkiewicz swam well in the freestyle events, winning the 200-yard race in a time of 2:16.21 and taking second place in the 500-yard event in 6:05.33.
Sophomore Autumn Card, left, and senior Valentina Lopez, right, grabbed the second and third places in the 100-yard breaststroke to help clinch last Friday’s victory for the Cougars. North Providence will take on undefeated Classical in today’s Division II semifinals at the Cranston YMCA’s pool.
North Providence junior Cassie Russo gives it her all as she swims in the 100-yard backstroke. She captured that event in a time of 1:07.46 and the 100-yard freestyle in 1:01.04.