| || By CHRIS MARCUCCI |
Democrat Staff Sports Writer
Swimming is, for the most part, an individual sport. In high school pools, college meets, and even at the Olympic level, itís usually more about singular swimmers than team scores.
Try telling that to the Great Bay Masters. The local swim club, consisting of swimming work groups based out of the Dover, Portsmouth and University of New Hampshire pools, doesnít have many swimmers who set goals based primarily on personal times or individual wins. What they do focus on is winning as a team, and theyíve been doing that a lot lately.
This past weekend, Great Bay won the New England Masters Short Course Yards Championship at Harvard Universityís Blodgett Pool with 3,290.5 points, beating out second-place Cambridge by 265.5 points in the 64-team meet.
Knocking off Cambridge ó a team boasting the most members, the most elite swimmers, and competing in its home pool ó was an accomplishment in itself for Great Bay. But itís no accident. New England Masters holds two big championship meets every year ó one at Harvard and one at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., during the fall. And Great Bay has now won two in a row, and three of the last four.
And itís mostly due to teamwork.
"I think weíve done very well," said Great Bay swimmer/coach Ed Gendreau. "Cambridge, for example, has so many people that want to participate, they have a waiting list, and they have a minimum speed requirement. They are truly fast swimmers, and at the Harvard meet, they set a number of national relay records. But they are also very concentrated on swimmers ages 40 and younger. We have a much broader age distribution and gender distribution."
And for Great Bay, that means greater point distribution. While most of the traditionally stronger teams like Cambridge, East Providence and Minuteman concentrate on hitting the fastest times in the most competitive divisions, GBM has swimmers ranging in age from 19 to 76 and has a fairly even ratio of men to women.
Since the groupís inception in 1997, Gendreau has never turned down someone wanting to join GBM. Its members constitute a wide range of talent, from advanced swimmers to people who have just started competing in the sport for the first time.
"I encourage anyone who wants to swim competitively to join us," Gendreau said. "We have everyone, from adults who are still learning the competitive strokes to some very fast former collegiate swimmers. I think we really run the gamut. We accommodate everyone here."
It gives GBM a decided advantage over teams that are stocked with fast swimmers, but donít have the same depth. With the championship meets awarding points 10 deep in age brackets that go as high as 75-79, Great Bay manages to score points where other teams simply canít.
"Itís kind of neat to be an athlete at 50, 60, 70 years old," said Chuck Doleac, a 53-year-old Portsmouth attorney whoís been swimming in the Portsmouth workout group for more than 10 years. "Weíre from New Hampshire and we took out two teams from Massachusetts, including Cambridge, this famous swim team. Itís quite a feat."
Of the 90 Great Bay swimmers competing this past weekend, 38 were ages 40 and up. And for a lot of those swimmers like Doleac, the most dramatic part of the meet wasnít watching the teamís young guns swim ó it was watching 56-year-old Ann Fredette, a resident of Dover who was the third-highest point scorer among women (89).
"She has a degenerative disc problem in her back," Doleac said. "And during her race, her disc locked up mid-stroke, and she stopped, and the whole pool was hushed. Then it unlocked and she kept going, and, of course, our team was all there cheering for her. Thatís the whole idea, to support each other as a team."
Itís the womenís events that ended up carrying Great Bay this past weekend. Women make up nearly half of the teamís 125 members, allowing GBM to clean up in the female bracket with 1,729.5 points, beating second-place Cambridge by a whopping 675.5.
"We dominated our womenís half of the meet, and it feels good," said Gail Pentheny, a 38-year-old Portsmouth resident who used to swim for an AAU team, from youth levels through college. "We knew we were strong, and we did what we had to do. Thatís what itís about ó the participation. Almost everybody participates, and a lot of that comes from the fact that our coach works so hard for us. Ed is extremely dedicated to the team and most people recognize that. A lot of people were swimming for their own times, but we all wanted to give this to Ed, and we did it."
How dedicated is Gendreau? The Dover resident who swam for Northeastern University, where he set a record in the 100-meter butterfly that stood for several years, didnít even need a towel during this weekendís championships. He competed in 15 events during the three-day meet, setting an example that his teammates eagerly follow.
"We really rally around the group effort," Gendreau said. "We didnít win by a lot this year, it was by no means a walk-over. So everybodyís participation was important to our victory. We really needed people to come down and swim with us, and that really tips the scales in our favor."
Chris Marcucci is a staff sports writer. He can be reached at 742-4455 Ext. 5511 or at email@example.com.