From The Zone – Waterbury Republican; written by Mark Jaffee
When senior tri-captains Ben Bowler, Sam Mason and Jack Tucker hoisted the CIAC Class S championship plaque late Monday night, it was a signature moment not only for the current Holy Cross High boys swimming team, but the past members in the program.
After three straight years as a runner-up, the Crusaders finally reached that elusive goal compiling 709 points ahead of a distant second-place Brookfield (542.5) at Wesleyan University's Freeman Athletic Center.
"When it was finally over, It was an unbelievable feeling," said Tucker Tuesday before practice for Thursday's State Open at Yale. "I have been swimming for 13 years, since I am five years old. This was the greatest feeling I have ever felt to share this with my teammates. I've been a part of other titles over the years, but nothing like this. Everyone was on their game and we all got focused and really serious on what we had to do."
"I was just so proud of all the swimmers and thought about everyone who had ever swam in this program," added Mason.
Mason also thought of the unfortunate turn of events at the halfway point of the meet when he inadvertently "flinched" off the starting blocks before the gun went off to signal the start of the 100 freestyle.
"As soon as I hit the water, I knew," noted Mason. "I swam the race and came in second, but I knew my place didn't count." Mason was disqualified.
While the Crusaders had maintained a substantial lead at that point, they still rallied around Mason.
"We decided it was now or never," noted Tucker. "We knew we still had a chance to make history."
In the following event, Holy Cross sophomore Derek Fantano took sliver and senior Chris Ford grabbed a bronze.
"That got us right back on track," said Tucker. "We were cruising from then on."
The night got even better for Mason and the Crusaders. Head coach Mary Racevicius, in her sixth season as head coach, made a bold move by changing the order of the final event of the night, the 400 free relay, when she took Mason out of the opening leg and moved him to the anchor spot.
Mason waited patiently on the deck, as Tucker, Fantano and Chris Ford took their turns.
Zach Houston of Haddam-Killingworth was ahead of Ford before leaving it up to Mason to finish strong.
"Sam just tore through the water," noted Tucker.
"I just swam on pure emotion and heart," said Mason. "Everyone rallied around me and this time, I didn't flinch on the blocks. Chris (Ford) did a phenomenal to keep the race close."
Mason sealed the win for the Crusaders, who took gold with a time of 3:13.45, a hundredths of a second ahead of the previous state record of 3:13.53 set by Weston in 2014.
"We didn't even know that it was a state record until we got back to Holy Cross," noted Mason. "It never crossed any of our minds after the race. Everyone was just cheering so hard and loud. I was just trying to catch my breath. My vision was blurry and didn't see the scoreboard clearly."
Mason, a Naugatuck resident, admitted that he felt an array of emotions on the bus ride home.
"All of the seniors thanked their parents and everyone who supported us," said Mason. "This was about the opportunity that we had in front of us to represent Holy Cross and the entire Naugatuck Valley League."
Mason, Tucker, Bowler, twins Alex Ford and Chris Ford and Madeline O'Connor are the only seniors on the 42-member roster. The Crusaders captured their fifth-straight NVL crown earlier this month.
"I feel so blessed and honored to be on this team," said Mason.