Attleboro Alum Has ‘Wright’ Stuff for UMass Swimming

Owen Wright
Attleboro alum Owen Wright heads into this week’s A-10 Championships after setting a pair of Rogers Pool records for UMass men’s swimming. (UMass Athletics)

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After being out of the pool for a little while, University of Massachusetts senior Owen Wright was not sure what to expect when he stepped onto the block for the final dual meet of his collegiate career. He admitted being nervous in the build-up to UMass facing Fordham in the final meet of the regular season, having just returned to practice after dealing with complications from cystic fibrosis (CF).

“I just had to put all that negative attention away,” said Wright during a midweek phone call. “I had to divert that negativity and I just did what my coaches have trained me to do and that’s when you’re on the block and you hear the beep you perform. You can’t think about anything else when you’re on the block.”

Whatever mental hurdles Wright, a former standout for both Attleboro High and the Bluefish Swim Club, had to jump, his performance was better than even he could have imagined. He helped the 200-meter Medley Relay team earn a win to kickstart the meet and then set a pair of Rogers Pool records, in the 50-meter Freestyle (20.42) and 100-meter Freestyle (44.92), to help the Minutemen to a big Atlantic 10 Conference win.

Following the meet, Wright was named the A-10 Performer of the Week for the third time this season.

“It doesn’t happen a lot at this level where you really have some breakthrough performances,” he explained. “It really doesn’t. It’s a long, grueling trip throughout the season and you’re rarely close to your best time before the major meet, so I was super-happy.”

Wright’s swimming journey actually began years ago at the local YMCA, long enough that he admitted that he cannot remember the first time that he swam competitively. He said with a laugh, “I simply cannot remember the first time I started swimming. I can’t. It’s been such a long journey for me.”

He does recall that his first swim team was the Tsunami swim program based at the Attleboro YMCA. Despite being a smaller program, the Tsunami have several Div. I alumni, including Wright and Josh Beals (who swam for the University of North Carolina). As numbers dropped, Wright made the move to the Bluefish, a competitive USA Swimming club program that regularly sends swimmers to top colleges and even to the Olympics (R.I.-native Elizabeth Beisel in 2016).

Wright would stay with the Bluefish throughout high school, as he continued to improve and compete with some of the top talent in the country.

“Bluefish is renowned for the amount of pressure that they put on their athletes, a lot of traveling all over the country for training trips, and some pretty big swim meets,” Wright said. “That prepared me for the Div. I lifestyle, better than some kids that come from the YMCA level. That was what set me up.”

While this seems like a typical path for a college swimmer, it was not guaranteed that Wright would be a success in the pool. He has battled CF since birth. The disease, according to information from the CF Foundation, is a chronic genetic disease that affects the lungs, causing mucus buildup, infections, and other symptoms, and requires constant monitoring and treatment. When issues flare up, as they did during this season, Wright is forced out of the pool to manage his CF.

Despite the difficulties that it can cause, Wright saw CF was not an obstacle, but as a motivation.

“Sure there were some setbacks – I would get sick every so often and have to be out of the pool and that’s happened in my college career too,” he said. “It’s just part of life with the disease, but I just kept my chin up and pushed myself to do more.”

Wright continued, “When I’m feeling not so great, I push myself always to do more. That’s kind of what got me into this level of swimming. I step up on the blocks and I’m not feeling great, what am I going to do? Am I going to pull out of this race? No, I’m going swim the race and I’m going to try and win the race.”

Pushed by people who wanted him to stop or who wanted him to take it easy, Wright set bigger and bigger goals for himself. He was focused on meeting the qualifying times for the prestigious Speedo Junior National Championship, despite taking the block next to swimmers that were, by his own admission, much bigger and stronger. “I would get up on the blocks and I’d be like, oh man how am I going to get to that level?” he said. “Those times I really pushed myself to accomplish and I got one time when I was a junior in high school. Those cut times were my main inspiration.”

He achieved that goal during his junior year of high school, which was also the moment that he realized he could compete at the Div. I collegiate level. While swimming for his club at the top level, Wright was also a four-year member of the Attleboro High swim team, was named a Hockomock League All-Star three times and won state titles in the 50-free and 200-free in 2013.

High school swimming was a welcome break from the pressures of the club scene, even if it meant more than four hours per day in the pool. Wright said, “The high school level was more about showing up to practice and having fun. You’re with your friends, kind of chilling, and just having fun with the sport and that allowed me to kind of relax and take it a little less seriously.”

He added, “You get wrapped up in your head quite frequently when you’re on teams like Bluefish. I think it was healthy for me.”

His brother River also swam for Attleboro, before stepping aside after a strong freshman season to focus on Bluefish. River is now a junior and, according to Owen, being recruited by some of the top swim programs in the country. Having gone through the recruiting process, Owen is now offering advice, even if he admits that River is “much faster” and “on another level.”

“The whole game was very strategic,” Wright said of talking to Div. 1 schools. “I alerted River to this and told him, this is a business deal that you’re making.”

Wright ended up at UMass under legendary head coach Russ Yarworth, who is also an Attleboro native. Thanks to his time with Bluefish, Wright said that he was ready for the challenges of the Div. I level and it showed in the pool. He was an All-Conference performer as a rookie in the 800-meter Freestyle Relay (first team) and in the 200-meter Medley Relay (second team). He added three All-Conference honors as a sophomore, but he said that his senior season has been his best for the Minutemen.

“All the training that I’ve put in over the years is finally solidifying into really good skills that I can use in the water, skills that my competition might not have necessarily, and it basically comes from a long history with the sport,” he said.

He competes in the 50-free, 100-free, and 200-free, but it is the 50-meter race that remains his favorite. “It’s super-quick and there’s a lot of hype from the crowds,” Wright explained. “The best way to describe the 50-free is that it’s 75 percent energy and 25 percent actual performance. There’s the pre-race, you’re getting ready, you’ve got the crowd, you’re just feeling the energy and really only 25 percent of the time you’re actually in the pool swimming.”

After setting records in his final competitive swim in the Rogers Pool, Wright has turned his thoughts to his final meet as a collegiate swimmer. The A-10 Championships will be held in Geneva, Ohio on Wednesday and he is hoping to close out his career with one more big night in the pool.

“One last chance and I am just so thrilled with how I’ve performed,” he said. “I’m so happy to be going into A-10s in such a good position. This is just beyond expectation and beyond my wildest dreams for how I’d finish out my senior year.”

(Ed. Note – Wright is not the only former Hockomock League swimmer that is having a strong senior season for the Minutemen. King Philip alum Chris DiGiacomo, a senior at UMass, posted a time of 1:50.47 in the 200 Individual Medley against Fordham to set a new Rogers Pool record. DiGiacomo earned Div. III All-American honors as a freshman at Keene State.)

The 2016 Hockomock Boys Swimming All Stars & HMs

Below are the official Hockomock League Boys Swimming All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.

Hockomock League MVP

Alex DiGiacomo, King Philip

Hockomock League All Stars

River Wright, Attleboro
Dylon Willis, Attleboro
Nathan Tellier, Attleboro
Colton Parkinson, Attleboro
Sebastian Melendez, Canton
Diego Ferstler, Canton
Sean Mitchell, Canton
Owen Guerini, Canton
Connor Bourgeois, Franklin
Tim McQuaid, King Philip
Tyler Stringfellow, King Philip
Alex DiGiacomo, King Philip
Jack Poppenberger, King Philip
Andy Sprague, King Philip
Sebastian Gwynne, Mansfield
Nick Antonellis, Milford
Marcello Panno, Milford
Nick Haddad, North Attleboro
Victor Cai, North Attleboro
Randy Wentworth, North Attleboro
Zach Vogel, Oliver Ames
Kyle Gray, Oliver Ames
Andrew Abramson, Oliver Ames
Greg Klimov, Sharon
Ben Mo, Sharon
Jason Hertz, Sharon
Caelan Schrama, Taunton

Honorable Mentions

Dan Nadeau, Canton
Kyle Stringfellow, Foxboro
Roy Wang, Franklin
Tate Duffy, King Philip
Jared Gabrilowitz, Mansfield
Chris Watson, Milford
Brian Hines, North Attleboro
Michael Sullivan, Oliver Ames
Connor King, Taunton

KP Back on Top at Hockomock Swim Championship

KP Swim
The King Philip boys’ swim team regained the top spot at the Hockomock Championship meet on Sunday, capping a season that also saw the Warriors win the league dual meet title. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

Josh Perry

MILFORD, Mass. – After one year without a title, perennial league power King Philip is back on top at the Hockomock Boys Swimming Championship. The Warriors, who finished third in 2015, finished with an overall total of 361 and won by nearly 100 points over second place  on Sunday at the Milford High natatorium.

“I think overall the kids swam well,” said KP coach Kathy White. “There’s some really fast swimming in the Hockomock League this year, which I think great for the league…so I think for us to have as much depth, I think everyone stepped up.”

Remarkably, the Warriors got first place finishes in two of the first four events, but no other firsts for the remainder of the meet. The 200-yard medley relay team of Tim McQuaid, Tyler Stringfellow, Alex DiGiacomo, and Jack Poppenberger took first (and the double points) and DiGiacomo added a first place in the 50-yard freestyle.

Although there were no other event winners, KP continued to accumulate points by placing a number of swimmers in the top positions. Stringfellow and Poppenberger finished in second and third in the 200- and 500-yard free, Andy Sprague added a fifth to DiGiacomo’s first in the 50-yard free, DiGiacomo and Dean Whyte took third and fifth in the 100-yard fly, and Tim McQuaid and Colby Vieira took second and fourth in the 100-yard backstroke.

“We have a lot of kids who do a lot of things and are willing to do what you ask them to and step into roles where they might not be comfortable,” said White.

When asked if the consistent success of the Warriors through the years (KP has won all but two titles since the program began) adds any pressure to the team, White replied, “I think they take it on themselves and they want to carry on what’s started and carry on that tradition.”

In second place overall was Attleboro with 269 points, which was by far the Bombardiers’ best finish at the Hockomock Championship. According to head coach Rory Germain, when the Bombardiers joined the league they stood little chance of challenging for the title and had yet to finish higher than eighth, but now can compete with the Hock’s best.

“It feels like a win,” said Germain. “I’m beyond proud of these guys.”

“Three of my seniors, who are senior captains this year, were on the team three years ago when we didn’t have a shot…we finished in 12th place, we were bottom of the barrel, and to just see how far they’ve come as swimmers and really as people is just incredible.”

Attleboro had five first-place finishers on Sunday. Dylon Willis took first in the 100-yard free and 100-yard breaststroke and freshman River Wright made a splash in his first league meet, taking first in two events, including the 100-yard fly in which he edged out Milford’s Nick Antonellis, who he knows well from club swim, by less than a second.

“I’ve sort of bummed that he wasn’t going to seniors, which is a club thing,” said Wright about getting to square off against Antonellis. “I didn’t get to face him when we swam against Milford, but it was awesome to have someone to race today.”

Wright also won the 200-yard IM by five seconds and was part of the 400-yard free relay team, along with Nate Tellier, Colin Parkinson, and Willis, which fell behind by a couple of body lengths to the team from Sharon but managed to get nearly even after the third leg and then won by four seconds after River’s closing push.

“I was losing it,” said Germain with a laugh. “Dylan got us within one body length and then once River got in first…I have utmost confidence in my boys and especially River – he’s a notch above.”

About Wright’s impact on the team this season, Germain added, “It makes all the relays better, gets us more points in individual events, and he’s one of those kids who’s very modest and humble and not above helping the kids who just started and cheering them on.”

Wright did not try to contain his excitement at being able to share the excitement with teammates, in what is at the highest levels a very individual sport.

He said, “It’s absolutely nothing like I’ve ever experienced before…To have a team like this and race with your team as a whole, is something…absolutely breathtaking.”

Davenport dual meet champion Sharon took third overall and Canton finished in fourth led by Sebastian Melendez, who took first in the 200- and 500-yard free and joined with Diego Ferstler, Sean Mitchell, and Owen Guerini to take first in the 200-yard free relay.

In the end, the Warriors had enough depth to finish well in front and got back on top of the podium (or diving board, as the case may be) after a brief, one-year hiatus.

“We’ve got a really great crop of freshmen this year,” she explained, “and we want to apply that dedication to every kid who comes in here to carry that tradition on.”

Overall Results
King Philip – 361
Attleboro – 269
Sharon – 260
Canton – 206
Taunton – 181
Milford – 170
Franklin – 160
North Attleboro – 155
Mansfield – 132
Oliver Ames – 125
Foxboro – 35
200-Yard Medley Relay
1. King Philip (Tim McQuaid, Tyler Stringfellow, Alex DiGiacomo, Jack Poppenberger) – 1:47.24
2. Sharon (Tadhg Daly, Benjamin Mo, Greg Klimov, Jason Hertz) – 1:48.18
3. North Attleboro (Nick Haddad, Victor Cai, Randy Wentworth, Brian Hines) – 1:50.05
4. Attleboro (Samual Seybert, Dylon Willis, William Healy, Nathan Tellier) – 1:50.21
5. Mansfield (Zack Costello, Jared Gabrilowitz, Sebastian Gwynne, Matt Weiner) – 1:54.62
200-Yard Freestyle
1. Sebastian Melendez (Canton) – 1:48.20
2. Tyler Stringfellow (King Philip) – 1:51.77
3. Jack Poppenberger (King Philip) – 1:53.44
4. Benjamin Mo (Sharon) – 1:56.39
5. Andrew Abramson (Oliver Ames) – 1:57.92
200-Yard Individual Medley
1. River Wright (Attleboro) – 2:00.46
2. Victor Cai (North Attleboro) – 2:05.04
3. Nick Haddad (North Attleboro) – 2:05.99
4. Greg Klimov (Sharon) – 2:07.10
5. Kyle Gray (Oliver Ames) – 2:07.14
50-Yard Freestyle
1. Alex DiGiacomo (King Philip) – 22.92
2. Connor Bourgeois (Franklin) – 23.18
3. Sean Mitchell (Canton) – 23.61
4. Marchello Panno (Milford) – 23.93
5. Andy Sprague (King Philip) – 24.21
100-Yard Butterfly
1. River Wright (Attleboro) – 53.23
2. Nick Antonellis (Milford) – 54.08
3. Alex DiGiacomo (King Philip) – 54.44
4. Greg Klimov (Sharon) – 58.32
5. Dean Whyte (King Philip) – 1:01.71
100-Yard Freestyle
1. Dylon Willis (Attleboro) – 50.98
2. Caelan Schrama (Taunton) – 51.97
3. Kyle Gray (Oliver Ames) – 52.17
4. Andy Sprague (King Philip) – 52.46
5. Marchello Panno (Milford) – 53.30
500-Yard Freestyle
1. Sebastian Melendez (Canton) – 4:52.45
2. Tyler Stringfellow (King Philip) – 4:54.28
3. Jack Poppenberger (King Philip) – 5:04.63
4. Andrew Abramson (Oliver Ames) – 5:13.18
5. Tate Duffy (King Philip) – 5:15.64
200-Yard Freestyle Relay
1. Canton (Diego Ferstler, Sean Mitchell, Owen Guerini, Sebastian Melendez) – 1:34.17
2. Attleboro (Samual Seybert, Nathan Tellier, Colin Parkinson, River Wright) – 1:36.34
3. King Philip (Andy Sprague, Colby Vieira, Tim McQuaid, Alex DiGiacomo) – 1:36.87
4. Milford (Marchello Panno, Chris Watson, Michael Koury, Nick Antonellis) – 1:39.28
5. Sharon (Tadhg Daly, Alexander Lurie, Nishanath Mankame, Jason Hertz) – 1:39.44
100-Yard Backstroke
1. Nick Haddad (North Attleboro) – 56.93
2. Tim McQuaid (King Philip) – 59.35
3. Colin Parkinson (Attleboro) – 1:00.51
4. Colby Vieira (King Philip) – 1:01.49
5. Samual Seyhart (Attleboro) – 1:03.41
100-Yard Breaststroke
1. Dylon Willis (Attleboro) – 1:00.72
2. Nick Antonellis (Milford) – 1:04.21
3. Victor Cai (North Attleboro) – 1:04.46
4. Benjamin Mo (Sharon) – 1:05.04
5. Tate Duffy (King Philip) 1:08.38
400-Yard Freestyle Relay
1. Attleboro (Nathan Tellier, Colin Parkinson, Dylon Willis, River Wright) – 3:28.28
2. Sharon (Greg Klimov, Jason Hertz, Nishanath Mankame, Benjamin Mo) – 3:32.33
3. Canton (Owen Guerini, Sean Mitchell, Diego Ferstler, Sebastian Melendez) – 3:32.93
4. King Philip (Andy Sprague, Colby Vieira, Tyler Stringfellow, Jack Poppenberger) – 3:35.70
5. Milford (Marchello Panno, Chris Watson, Michael Koury, Nick Antonellis) – 3:40.58
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.