By Chris O'Donnell
---- — LEWISTON, MAINE – Ask Gabrielle Sergi about what she’s going to do after graduation and the question is almost overwhelming for her. A little frightening even for a swimmer who has dedicated her entire life to swimming over the past few years.
A senior swimmer at Bates College, Sergi recently earned New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) All-Conference honors for the fourth time in her career (she thought it was her first). It is the culmination of years of sacrifice, travel and more sacrifice.
She was also named to the NESCAC Winter All-Academic Team with a 3.61 grade point average in psychology. She earned a 4.0 last fall.
“Elle has been one of those athletes who defines what it means to be a student-athlete at the Division III level,” said Peter Casares, head coach of the Bates swimming and diving team. “It was never a zero sum game for her. She was always going to get great grades and swim fast. It was never one or the other.”
That’s not the half of it.
It was only within the past few years that Newburyport High School merged with Triton to offer an interscholastic swimming program. That was never an option for Sergi, who graduated from Newburyport in 2010 and chose to attend Bates.
Instead, Sergi swam for the Solo Aquatics, a year-round competitive swimming factory in Haverhill that manufactures collegiate swimmers like an automobile plant. Competing for Solo was more than an after-school activity. It is also a before-school activity.
In her early teens, with a love for swimming, Sergi decided to forgo all things school-related (except for studying) to devote herself to Solo. Not only did she make the commitment, so did her parents, Michael and Stephanie.
For more than four years, Sergi, along with Mom or Dad, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to make it to Haverhill for the Solo morning practice. Afterward, it was off to Newburyport for classes, then back to Solo for the afternoon session, which lasted between 2-3 hours.
On weekends, there were meets all over New England, sometimes as far as New York. There wasn’t a whole lot of television in the Sergi household. Nor was there the time for the things that high school kids do: sleepovers with friends, late movies, birthdays.
“My dad would sit through practices, because it didn’t make sense for him to drive back to Newburyport to just turn around and come back to get me,” Sergi said. “I was too young to drive myself. I definitely owe a lot to my parents.”
Individually, Sergi enjoyed a stellar career at Solo, where she still ranks among its all-time leaders in four events: the 50-meter freestyle (second, 24.48) and 100-meter freestyle (sixth, 54.38) and the 200-meter backstroke (seventh, 2:12.95) and the 100-meter backstroke (eighth, 1:02.48), which drew the attention of Casares.
After committing to Bates, she threw Casares a curve. Instead of competing in the middle distances, Sergi wanted to be a sprinter. “We had a lot of talented sprinters on the team,” Caseres said. “Clearly, she knew herself very well. She became one of the conference’s best freestyle and backstroke swimmers.”
Casares liked Sergi for the relays too, but she had sparse experience in the relays during her time at Solo. College swimming is more of a team sport, where clubs are geared toward individual acceleration. “There was a learning curve,” Casares said. “But she learned very fast.”
Casares recalls Sergi’s first collegiate meet when she dove in too early during a relay, resulting in a disqualification.
“We laugh about that now,” Casares said.
Fast-forward to the NESCAC Championship in February, where Bates’ 200-yard freestyle relay team placed third and earned All-Conference honors by 0.6 seconds. Sergi led off with a 24.31 split, a personal best.
“Elle went from (the disqualification) to dropping 5/10 of a second off the best performance of her career when her team needed her most. That’s something we’ll never forget.”
Kudos to Seabrook’s Ashante Little, a senior on the Wheaton track and field team, who was named the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Track Athlete of the Year. A two-time NCAA champion in the 400 meter dash, Little was also named Wheaton’s Outstanding Female Athlete Monday at the College’s annual awards ceremony. She set a Division III record when she won the 400 meter hurdles in 58.56 seconds at the NEWMAC Championship, besting the previous mark of 58.99 set by Carolyn Ross of Augsburg in 1989…Salem State sophomore slugger Richard Fecteau (Newbury) also enjoyed a plaudit-filled week. He was named the MASCAC Player of the Year and the recipient of the President’s Cup, presented to the outstanding male and female athletes at Salem State. Fecteau is hitting .385 with 45 runs and 28 RBI entering the MASCAC Tournament this weekend.