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Norwalk Swimmers Shine After Season Is Saved

NORWALK, Conn. – Katie Baritz, Ashley Balunek and Mallory Ham had feared that the co-op girls swimming program for Norwalk and Brien McMahon would get axed in budget cuts back in January. The girls are now the captains of the team and remain incredulous that the program was ever in jeopardy.

“I was furious,’’ said Ham, a junior from Brien McMahon. “I was so angry. I felt like how could you break up a family like this? I couldn’t believe that they might take away this opportunity.”

The program was saved, as was the boys hockey program, which also faced elimination in a tight budget. Baritz and Balunek, who are seniors at Norwalk High School, have heard the threats before.  “There have been so many years that they’ll cut it,’’ said Baritz, a diver. “And they don’t do a thing. I think it’s just a lot of talk. They always find the money somewhere.”

Still, the talk was unsettling especially for Baritz and Balunek, who are in their last year of high school competition. “It was tough,’’ Baritz said, “knowing we were going to be captains, and we didn’t know if we would have a team to lead.”

Baritz considered diving for the boys team. Balunek didn’t know whether she had another sports option. “I’m not much of a runner,’’ Ashley said. “All of the other sports, it seems like they involve some form of running.”

The tight bond that the team had formed only galvanized them. That has been evident this season, as the Bears are 3-0 with a signature win over a Staples team that they haven’t beat in at least a decade. They opened eyes around the league with that victory, then followed it up with lopsided wins over St. Joseph and Danbury . “We have a lot of talent on this team,’’ Balunek said.

The team includes 13 promising freshmen and seven talented sophomores who are ready to push the co-op swim team to the next level. And although the start is encouraging, several tough meets are scheduled for the next month that will provide a better reflection on just how strong the team is.

“I think we’re proving that we deserve to be here,’’ Ham said. “I’ve never been more proud of my team. I think we’re showing everyone that we have a good team, and that keeping swimming was the right decision.”

Contact Tom Renner at .

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