NEW HAVEN—Stratford High senior swimmer Claire Noccioli had been chasing history.
She had been chasing a sibling rivalry, of sorts, her eyes set firmly on a school record that had been set by her sister, Ally, years before.
At Southern Connecticut State University’s Hutch Natatorium on Wednesday night, site of the CIAC Class M championship meet, it all came down to one last event—one last swim in her career—with one last chance to break her older sister’s mark in the 100-yard breaststroke.
It was a made-for-Hollywood moment: Kid sister—whose personal best was just 14th-hundreds of a second off the record—ready to shine in her last race. Record falls, everybody hugs and goes home happy. Cue the music.
Only, Hollywood doesn’t exist in New Haven. Nor in Stratford.
It was over before it started.
“Unfortunately, my goggles decided not to work,” Noccioli said. “Going into the event I just said these are my last four laps, so whatever happens, I’m just going to leave it in the pool. What happened wasn’t very good, but it’s done. It’s over.”
Swimming in lane one, closest to where the Stratford team was sitting next to Bunnell ready to root her on, Noccioli exploded off the blocks.
The force of her hitting the water knocked her goggles askew, however, and they quickly filled with water.
She tried to adjust them mid-swim, so she could see clearly, but on her flip at the midway turn of the race they slipped again, covering her eyes.
Heading into the final turn, unable to see clearly, Noccioli misjudged the wall and coasted in too early, reaching for a barrier than never seemed to arrive.
She lost valuable seconds. She lost her shot at achieving that dream.
Ally Noccioli’s mark of 1:11.18 seconds will stay on the wall at the Flood Middle School pool.
Claire’s time of 1:15.7—more than two seconds slower than her seed time, and four seconds slower than her PR—would be just an unfortunate blip in the history of her high school career.
“It’s happened to me a few times this season,” Noccioli said of the goggle issue. “I just dove in and they flipped up and filled with water. I swam a lap with them on my forehead, and the next turn they fell back down. I couldn’t see anything. It was an eventful race.”
Hollywood might not have existed on this night, but New Orleans does which is why Noccioli will be living out an even more-important life-long dream in the coming years.
She has always wanted to attend Tulane University in New Orleans.
She wants to become a neurologist and help in the fight against dementia, a cause her entire family has been touched by and believes in battling back.
One of the top academic students at Stratford High, she found out recently she was accepted to the school.
“Oh my God, that means everything to me,” she said. “I can’t wait.”
For more than a minute in the final race of her swim career, Noccioli was blinded by a cruel twist of fate.
She sees the rest of the future quite clearly, though, and nothing will be stopping Claire Noccioli from here on out as she strives for her goals.
Editor’s Note—”On the Sidelines” is an occasional feature column written by Stratford Sports Scene publisher John Nash)