NEW HAVEN, March 22 – Avon High sophomore Riley Strassner continues to break down barriers with the Falcon boys swimming team. A week ago, Strassner became the first Avon boys swimmer to win a state championship by capturing the 200-yard freestyle at the Class M championships.
On Saturday, he came within one second of winning a State Open championship. Strassner turned in the best individual performance in the history of the Avon High boys swimming program at Yale’s historic Kiputh Pool by taking second in the 200-yard freestyle with a school-record time of 1:42.34.
“It was a great swim,” Avon coach Diana Cesaro said on a loud and crowded pool desk. “He took it out where he needed to do. He ran out of gas a bit but he still broke his own school record.”
There was no catching Fairfield Prep senior Nicholas Wargo, who was swimming in the 200 free final for the third time in his career. Wargo led from start to finish and won the race in a season-best time of 1:41.27. Stassner was second throughout the race but could never really close the gap on Wargo.
A week ago, Strassner beat Brookfield’s Daniel Krentsa by 0.12 of a second to win the Class M championship. At the Open, Krentsa was third behind Strassner but the gap between the swimmers grew to 0.60 of a second.
“It was good,” Strassner said afterward. “I still think I could have swum faster. I missed two walls (on flip turns). I just got a toe on it (the wall).”
There have been some dramatic drops in time for Strassner in the past two weeks. His season-best time for the Class M championships was 1:47.94. He swam a 1:45.67 in qualifying. At the Class M meet, his time dropped to 1:42.94 and he reduced it to 1:42.34 at the State Open.
A week in Florida practicing with the team helped along with work on his flip turns and stronger kicks off the wall. “I used to just push away from the wall,” he said. “Now, I kick out.” Strassner is also increasing the length of his strokes.
Strassner qualified for the State Open in the 100-yard freestyle. He was seeded 14th and finished 12th with a time of 48.02 seconds. He missed winning his heat by 0.01 of a second to Sheehan’s Robert Hacku.
“Practice isn’t as much fun but I live for the competition,” Strassner said.
The previous best performance by an Avon swimmer at the State Open was a fifth place finish by Zach Cesaro in the 200 freestyle in 2012. Strassner is just the second Avon High boys swimmer to ever earn a medal at the State Open. He is the first boys swimmer in school history to earn consecutive trips to the State Open.
Avon freshman Kyle Emery qualified in the 100-yard backstroke and finished 19th with a time of 56.54 seconds. Emery moved up two spots. He was seeded 21st prior to the meet. Senior Bill Holloman qualified in the 100-yard breast stroke and he finished 22nd with a time of 1:03.32.
Avon’s 200-yard medley relay team finished 22nd with a time of 1:45.20 seconds. Emery (backstroke), Holloman (breast stroke), Matthew Bagley (butterfly) and Devon Chambers (freestyle) swam in the race. They moved up two places. The Falcons were the 24th seed coming into the meet.
Avon had its best-ever finish at the State Open, earning 55 points and finishing in 28th place.
NOTES: Avon’s Whitney McLellan qualified for three State Open meets from 2002-04 but she swam during the fall during the girls swimming season. She swam as a one-man team. McLellan won the State Open title in the 100 breast stroke in 2003 and the 200 IM and 100 breast stroke in 2004. … Most girls in Avon have swum with the boys team during the winter. They can qualify for the CIAC championship meets but they must qualify under the boys times. … Wargo had swum in the 200 free final as a junior and sophomore. He had taken fourth both times.