BRISTOL - Keagan Mullan, Gabriel Bartolome, Ben Stafford and Colton Litwinczyk may be in the pool at different times for the Bristol boys swimming co-op team during the 400 yard freestyle relay, but the bond the group shares makes it special.
“We all grew up together,” Mullan said. “We swam for the [Bristol Splash]. We all started at a young age. Now, seeing us here years later is just incredible. These are some of the strongest and best people I’ve ever met in the sport. They’re really dedicated and always looking to get better, including myself.”
When head coach Nick Daddabbo was choosing the four swimmers to make up the relay team, the relationship of the four was at the forefront of the decision, rather than the individual times.
“They swam on the park and recreation team in Bristol,” Daddabbo said. “When it came to deciding that relay, for me, it wasn’t necessarily about their times. It was more about how they worked together.”
While individual times may not have been the deciding factor, the progress the group has made in that department has been remarkable.
“We’ve been dropping our times considerably,” Bartolome said. “It is probably the best thing we’ve been doing. To see how far we’ve come from our slowest time until now is a big improvement for all of us.”
After finishing the relay with a time of 3:55 at the beginning of the season, the four have combined to drop their time each meet and recorded a new personal best against Berlin, as they finished in first place at 3:39.
First place finishes have been a common theme this year for the four, as their only loss came against Conard earlier this season.
“I think the success has a lot to do with their four personalities,” Daddabbo said. “They all want to do really well. They ask questions. The four of them are really coachable and take what you tell them and apply it to their strokes and what they have to do in the meet.”
The record in the relay for the Bristol boys co-op is 3:21.39, set in 2014 by Bryant Burney, Brad Burney, Matt Gwozdecke and Weston Marshall.
This year’s group may not end up beating the record, as it is still a good chunk of time to cut, but the opportunity is there to do so.
Daddabbo believes the group can still drop time if they put in the work needed to do so.
Most impressive about their success is the youth of the four.
Mullan is the only upperclassman, as a senior. Stafford is a sophomore, while Bartolome and Litwinczyk are freshmen.
“We’re still going to have a really strong relay team even though I’ll be gone [next season],” Mullan said. “When I see [Gabe, Colton and Ben] swim and see how good they are for their age, that encourages me more than anything, to be honest.”
For a group that embraces being challenged, the toughest task for the four is still ahead. It will come in the road meet against defending conference champions Middletown.
“The Middletown meet is definitely going to put pressure on that relay,” Daddabbo said. “That meet is going to be a really good meet. It’s actually at Middletown this year, and going into that environment, it is one of those environments where you don’t want to be if you have to win the meet, especially when it comes down to the end.”
Mullan’s leadership has helped pave the way for a strong finish this season and a bright future for the other three.
“Keagan has pushed them and motivated them to get that relay to where it needs to be,” Daddabbo said.
Regardless of how the season finishes for Bristol and the relay team, the four have established a bond that goes well beyond the pool.
Dan Orencole can be reached at or