GROTON -- There are Gators swimming in the Groton Country Club pool.
But there is no need to be alarmed, they are the newly affiliated Swimpro Gators AAU team.
The Gators were originally formed as a recreational swimclub, but head coach Jen Dimino, and team owner Carol Wright, noticed that some of their athletes wanted to race against tougher competition.
"The team that Carol and I both coach has been around since the mid-90's," Dimino said. "As it developed, we had athletes getting better and better. Around two years ago they started asking, 'what more is there?'"
In response to the athletes' inquiries, Dimino and Wright explored going the USA Swimming route, but decided that joining the AAU was a more logical choice.
"USA Swimming has been here in New England for a while," Dimino said. "For a lot of different reasons, it didn't fit for us. I, on a whim, reached out to the AAU, which worked in New England for a long time, but not in swimming."
The AAU National Headquarters are located in R.I., and when Dimino asked if they were interested in bringing swimming back to New England, they said "heck, yes." Thanks to the drive and will of both Wright and Dimino, AAU swimming has returned to New England after an absence of more than 30 years.
"In working with the New England district president and treasurer, we played it by ear and got the whole thing rolling," said Dimino. "Besides us, there are two other teams, and we are in communication with several more from the local area and also from the North Shore. We're hoping that within the next year or so, this could possibly spread throughout the New England region."
The Gators hosted its first New England Regional meet at its home pool in Groton, and the event was a huge success.
"This was a major qualifying meet for the nationals held in Michigan," said Wright. "A number of kids qualified to go to nationals at our swim meet. Everyone is very excited about that. This will be our last AAU meet for the season. We will go off to nationals in July and on Sept. 1, we will start all over again."
Seventeen Gators qualified for the five-day national meet held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which plays host to over 1,000 swimmers.
When Dimino told her team members that they were making the move to AAU at the end of last season, the response was positive."Last winter, we told them we are in the AAU and joining is optional," said Dimino. "We had lots of interest from our team, especially our elite athletes who have been pushing for better completion, faster kids to swim against and longer events."
The Gators who qualified for nationals range in age from as young as 10, up to 16. Dimino said 99 percent of the qualifiers are what the team classifies as the "elite squad."
"These are the best of the best," said Dimino. "They are the most dedicated kids. They are the kids who made the decision that they want to continue swimming at a higher level. It is a lot of dedication on their part, but they have proven this is something they really want."
The Gators move to AAU allowed the swimmers to become more specialized in certain events.
"Prior to last year, if our athletes wanted something more, they would have to leave," said Dimino. "Our rec leagues didn't offer the longer distance events and the higher echelons of completion. Our athletes who want to stay with us can stay with us, and now they have the opportunity to compete against the best in the nation."
Qualifying to compete in the AAU Nationals meet in July are Declan Lowney, Sarah Figueroa, Jillian Onishi, Makayla Mason, Carina Hou, Lauren Kenney, Tad Schiebe, Todd Rust, Jennifer Kenney, Jared Magno, Ben Mason, Isabella Farago, Cara Fischetti, Andrei Safontchik, Jordan Sheffield, Kedar Kashyap and Alexandra Sinnery.
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