BENNINGTON -- As great as the ribbons for placing first through sixth, the real prize awaiting the swimmers at the Bennington Marauders' first meet of the summer season was fitting:
Little toy ducks.
Every swimmer who won a heat earned a rubber duck toy.
"If you won a heat, you got a duck," said Marauders coach Nicole Goswami. "That was the big incentive."
The Marauders, more than 60 swimmers strong for the summer, beat a game Connecticut River Valley Stingrays group that had many less competitors.
"A lot of our kids swam in the spring for me, so they are in good shape for the summer," Goswami said. "It's a good baseline for the season."
Relays were strong for the Marauders, especially with the older swimmers. The team of Kate Ahearn, Bridget Ahearn, Zoey Haar and Emily Barlow blazed through the 200 yard medley relay in 2 minutes, 14.06 seconds, beating the CRVS team by 20 seconds.
"Kate, Emily and Zoey are my most experienced swimmers, since I started coaching nine years ago, they were part of my first group of swimmers," Goswami said. "A lot of the high school kids swim year round, and the goal is to get the [rest] swimming all year."
Goswami said that since she began coaching, the amount of kids in the program have nearly doubled.
Haar was second in the 200 individual medley behind Casie Walton from CRVS. She only competed in the two events. Kate Ahearn swam a 1:22.51 in the 100-yard backstroke and was second behind Walton in the 100-yard freestyle.
Barlow was tops in the 50-yard breaststroke, beating teammate Vicka Medvedev.
Garrett Ufnar, Benjamin Medvedev, Zach Laforest and Morgan Flynn won the 200 medley relay and the 200-yard freestyle relay.
Laforest won the closest individual race of the meet in the 100-yard freestyle over CRVS' Chris Gurney, finishing in 1:02.51 against Gurney's 1:02.79.
In some of the younger groups, Nathan Younce, 9, was a winner in all five events he competed in, including swimming a 17.36 in the 25-yard freestyle, more than two seconds better than his seed. Seven-year-olds Iris Nofziger and Zoey Zazzaro scored wins and runner-up finishes in multiple events.
For the most part, the youngest swimmers are still learning how to complete the four strokes -- freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.
"Zoey just started with the program and girls like Grace Snyder swam with me in the spring and are coming full circle," Goswami said.
A major part of the success of the program is the parent involvement. Parents are tasked with timing, passing out prizes and setting up the concessions, among other things.
Goswami also works with coaches Jennifer Ufnar, Jennifer Parizo and Jeanette Burhans.
"Parent participation is crucial and the level is incredible," Goswami said. "We couldn't run our program or meets without the extremely strong support from the parents."