By Will LeBlond
The names and faces of the Ithaca High Swimming teams change every year, but success stays consistent no matter who hits the water.
The Little Red has been a mainstay near the top of Class A Section IV in both the boys and girls divisions. Under head coach Mike Blakely-Armitage, the girls just won their second consecutive sectional title last month and the boys are off to a 2-0 start in their dual season this winter. The boys will be on the hunt for their seventh Section IV title in the past nine seasons once mid-February rolls around.
Ithaca and Horseheads have been the top two perennial powers in the section in recent years, and it comes as no surprise to Blakely-Armitage.
“It’s seems like with our grouping it’s always Horseheads and Ithaca,” said Blakely-Armitage. “It’s mostly that way because there are stable club feeder programs for both areas that do a pretty good job.”
Perhaps the best example of youth shining through for the girls team this past fall was Elise Nishii-Kim. The 8th-grader qualified for four state events in the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and was part of the qualifying 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams. She helped Ithaca claim a 41-point team win over Horseheads in the sectional meet, which came just one year after the Little Red graduated what Blakely-Armitage considered as a “once in a lifetime” type of senior class.
“A lot of it too is that we have a culture of excellence with swimming in Ithaca,” said Blakely-Armitage on the consistency that his teams have enjoyed. “Even in years where we don’t think we’ll be as strong, we still strive to attain a level and we always do a significant amount of goal setting with our varsity program.”
The expectation is the same with the boys, who are off to another unbeaten start this winter. Ithaca came into the campaign on the strength of eight consecutive undefeated dual seasons and with wins against Binghamton and Corning, they’ve kept the streak alive.
With almost a decade of dominance for Blakely-Armitage’s team, the ties run deep for the program.
“In this community, people are pretty dedicated once their kids are dedicated to something,” said Blakely-Armitage. “The parents get right behind it.”
In the pool for the Little Red, Tim Hector has stepped up as the early leader of the squad. In their dual win on December 12 against Corning, he and teammate Evan Stevens both won a pair of individual events. And in the Hilton Invite meet at the beginning of the month, he won the 100 backstroke and was a part of the winning 200 medley relay team, as Ithaca claimed the team title up north, including a 35-point margin against Section III power Watertown.
While the boys also graduated plenty of big names in the past couple years, the early returns for the Little Red has proven that their mantra of consistency has been paying off.
“That kind of structure for a varsity program, no matter the sport, usually leads to some type of success,” said Blakely-Armitage. “And I think continually defining what success means to our program is really important for these kids each year.”
Blakely-Armitage also hopes that a successful diving program will come around as well for his teams. He has been working closely with Ithaca College to try and develop that side of his program.
Now, the boys will have their biggest day of the season so far when they will open up their home schedule on Wednesday with a dual against sectional power Horseheads.