The Natick High boys swimming and diving team knows a thing or two about improvement.
During the 2017-18 season, coach Caitlyn Shaddock’s Redhawks finished their dual-meet season unbeaten at 12-0, then rolled to the Bay State Conference title and won the league meet. When the South Sectional tourney arrived, they took second place behind Needham.
The 2018-19 campaign was almost a carbon copy of the previous year. The Redhawks finished undefeated again in dual meets, but this time their record was 13-0. They again were crowned BSC champs and captured the league meet. At the Sectional, however, they finished second again, bowing to Nantucket.
Last February, when the 2019-20 season ended, Natick looked like it slipped. But, when the Sectional arrived, the Redhawks were ready — to write some history. The squad finished the dual-meet season at 8-2 and was second in the conference standings. However, they bounced back in spectacular fashion to win the league meet before they captured their first Sectional crown in school history. Natick compiled 197 points to Bishop Feehan’s 191.
When all the celebrating concluded at the M.I.T. pool, Natick’s 2019-20 season included a three-year winning streak that reached 30 meets and a Sectional title that ended a playoff drought that lasted 45 years. Natick’s program got underway in 1975.
“We were all ecstatic and excited,’’ Shaddock said. “The Sectional title was a testament to all the hard work the boys displayed during the season. We finally topped the two previous years when we finished second. It was great for the kids, the coaches and the fans. For me, I had tears of joy.’’
When the Redhawks’ Max Weisman took sixth place in diving, that set the stage for Natick’s Sectional crown. The Redhawks were ahead by three points. The 400 freestyle relay team of Brian Cheung, Blake Horsch, Zach Bubonovich and Ben Schmelmer needed a third-place finish to clinch the championship. The did just that in a time of 3 minutes, 18.68 seconds.
“Max earned 13 points for his sixth-place finish and that put us ahead by three,’’ Shaddock said. “Then our relay guys went all out and gave us a great effort. I was humbled by our success and proud of the way the entire team worked all season. Our post-season participants were dynamic.’’
The Redhawks’ historic Sectional title is linked to a variety of strengths they relied on meet after meet. “Our kids showed determination, displayed a high swimming and diving IQ, they were athletic and technically sound, and collectively their work ethic and coachable nature were solid,’’ Shaddock emphasized.
Natick wasn’t able to match last year’s third-place finish at the State meet a week later on Feb. 16. The Redhawks finished in a tie for 11th place. “The teams were all strong contenders, all top-notch,’’ Shaddock offered. “We gave an all-out effort, getting some personal bests and a school record.’’
Natick’s four senior captains — Weisman, Schmelmer, Joey Holihan, and Matt Kwan — excelled as leaders, whether it was by example, being supportive or being vocal.
“Max challenged and pushed himself to be the best diver he could be,’’ Shaddock noted. “He’s very athletic because of his gymnastics background. Ben swam the freestyle events and was dedicated to the sport and to his team’s success. A strong leader, he was one of our hardest workers. Joey was determined and goal-oriented in his butterfly events. He was always willing to help others improve. Matt was coachable, his swimming IQ is high and he was determined to reach his goals in the breaststroke.’’
Logan Knapp, a sophomore diver, gained experience as a freshman. “Logan displayed lots of raw talent and has a lot of potential,’’ Shaddock said. “He’s coachable and very willing to learn.’’
Two other sophomores who played key roles were Bubonovich and Horsch. “Zach showed his versatility by competing in the breaststroke, freestyle and individual medley,’’ Shaddock said. “He’s coachable, solid in pressure situations, and rises to a challenge effectively. Blake is very competitive in freestyle. He’s determined and very athletic.’’
Junior twins Allen and Brian Cheung exhibited a strong work ethic. Allen swam the freestyle and backstroke while Brian competed in freestyle events. “Allen is very competitive and athletic,’’ Shaddock noted. “Brian is a technically sound swimmer who’s determined and goal-oriented.’’
The 31-year-old Shaddock, who was a four-year varsity swimmer at Milford High and also a captain, focuses on a competitive philosophy of reaching one’s potential and enjoying an athletic experience. “If our kids are improving, reaching their potential and having fun, then winning likely will follow,’’ she said.
A physics and astronomy teacher at Natick High, Shaddock doesn’t have to gaze at the stars to discover that the 25 boys on her roster learned some valuable life lessons during meets and practices.
“There’s no doubt that the sport teaches perseverance, mental toughness, teamwork, how to be a leader and how to develop a strong work ethic,’’ she said. “And, athletes who swim and dive understand that the sport has an individual and team aspect. The boys compete to win as individuals and to also compile points for their team. Individual success builds confidence and it also helps a squad to win.’’
Natick’s swim team lost nine seniors to graduation but managed to win its first Sectional crown in program history. Next year’s team will also be without nine seniors. So, what’s in store going forward?
“The key for continued success is getting ample newcomers and getting renewed efforts from our veterans,’’ Shaddock said.
Another key component is resilience. The Redhawks demonstrated it during the last three seasons, and it’s an intangible asset that helped Natick win its first Sectional crown.