By Joe Wojciechowski, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT
Anita Ricci has been around a little bit, so the tricks anyone might try to pull on the first-year coach will be just variations of things that she and her old teammates tried.
“I’ve been swimming at Old Orchard since I was 5 years old,” said Ricci, a 22-year-old senior at Rowan University, “so I’ve basically been there my whole life.”
But on Saturday, Ricci did experience something new – her first victory as a head coach – when Old Orchard defeated Pomona, 286-260, in her debut. Of course, it wasn’t easy. The Tri-County League B-Division meet came down to the relays, and Old Orchard, which needed six wins, came away with seven.
“It was really close, and I was a little worried there at the end, because a lot of the races were by touch-outs,” said Ricci, who had spent the last two years as an assistant under Suzanne Gagnon. “But it’s definitely more exciting when it’s close.”
Ricci, who graduated from Cherry Hill East in 1994, has discovered that there is more to being a head coach then just setting up practice. She now deals with parents and officials. There also is paperwork that could seemingly fill the deep end of the pool, what with all the meet sheets and cards that she fills out.
But the biggest responsibility she has is to swimmers who range in age from 8 to 18. At a time when they have everything from the X-Games to the X-Files movie to distract them, Ricci’s biggest job is keeping them in the pool.
“Today, kids are involved in a lot of other things, so it makes it hard for everyone to make a commitment,” Ricci said. “We try to get across the point that everyone has to make a commitment and everyone has to be at practice every day.”
Practice today will be a different kind of workout. As is the Old Orchard tradition after a big victory, there is usually a game of water polo or something else to make the next practice fun. And what could be much bigger than a coach’s first win?
“Well, we have Westwood coming up on July Fourth weekend,” Ricci said. “That will be one of our hardest meets, and we’ll try to work the kids a little harder to get them ready.”
Spoken like a true head coach.
Hello, my name is . . . Nobody ever said swimming in the Tri-County League would be easy. Unless a team is among the cream of the crop – like Pheasant Run or Deer Brook – there’s a chance that it could bounce from division to division from one season to the next.
Any team that finishes first in its division automatically moves up, while the last-place team in a division moves down. So early-season meets can cause coaches some Olympic-size headaches as they try to figure out matchups.
A case in point? Saturday’s meet between Sunnybrook and Kingston East was both teams’ first in the C-Division. Sunnybrook, last year’s D-Division champion, managed a 281 1/2-272 1/2 victory over the Seals, who finished last in the B-Division last season.
Kingston East stayed close because it set five team records. For Sunnybrook, Maureen, Eric and Colin O’Neill joined Jason and Matt Mattingly as double winners, making the meet a real family affair.
Let’s get it on. Pheasant Run and Deer Brook began what is seemingly an annual battle for the A-Division championship. While Pheasant Run has won the title for the last seven season, Deer Brook appears ready to make a strong challenge this season.
Both teams started with impressive victories Saturday.
Pheasant Run defeated Wedgewood, 334-220, behind seven double winners and a team-record performance by its 8-and-under medley relay team of Caroline Morris, Julie Martin, Lisa Somers and Kathryn Brunn, who were clocked in 1 minute, 31.06 seconds. Somers also won the 25 backstroke and the 25 butterfly.
Deer Brook rolled to a 316-182 victory over Green-Fields, a team some expect to be one of the better ones in the division. The Bluefish cruised with the help of 10 double winners and with Mary Catherine Mahon swimming a team-record 32.64-second time in the 50 freestyle for 9- and 10-year-olds.