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Athlete of the Month: Simmons College swimmer sprints to success as freshman

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 20. 2018 5:48PM
Simmons College freshman swimmer Maria Soraghan, of East Hampstead, won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle at the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championships last month. (Mike Broglio)

Maria Soraghan discovered something about herself at the Great Northeast Athletic Conference women's swimming championships last month.

The Simmons College freshman learned she can excel in more than just distance events after winning the 50 and 100-yard freestyle and helping the Sharks win two relay races at the meet.

Soraghan's success helped Simmons win its 14th straight GNAC title and earned her the December Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center/Express MED Athlete of the Month award as voted by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

Soraghan, of East Hampstead, focused on distance events while swimming for her club team, Solo Aquatics, throughout high school. Knowing Simmons has other talented distance swimmers on the roster, Soraghan wanted to try her hand at shorter events at the GNAC Championships.

"All through high school, I was not good at sprinting at all," Soraghan said. "At the beginning of the season, Mindy (Williams), our coach, had everyone going in all different events....I was put in shorter events and did pretty well in them and thought, 'Hey, maybe I'll give this a try.'"

Maria Soraghan

Soraghan did not change her practice routine to focus on her new events leading into the conference meet, which she credited as a reason behind her performance.

"All in practice, I did distance and I think it ended up helping me because I wasn't overthinking my events," Soraghan said. "I think it gave me more confidence. Every event I was more excited than nervous."

The Pinkerton Academy of Derry graduate started the conference meet by winning the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 24.7 seconds. After placing second in the 200-yard freestyle, Soraghan took the 100-yard freestyle crown with a time of 53.6 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than runner-up Jessica Zernitsky of Regis College. 

"That was kind of a surprise that I won by such a good distance," Soraghan said. "The 50 free we were all kind of neck-and-neck but I think the 100, I just really wanted that. I had come in second the day before in the 200 and I usually think of the 200 as my event so I wanted the 100 free."

Swimming in relay events was another new experience for Soraghan, who said her club team rarely competed in them. Soraghan's inexperience hardly showed as she helped Simmons win both the 400-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relays. Soraghan anchored the 400-yard freestyle relay team that set a GNAC record with its time of 3:39.52.

"This team has shown me they are really fun," Soraghan said of relay races. "The whole pool deck - it's a completely different environment than an individual event. It bonds you together when you're swimming with other girls and relying on other girls."

Soraghan said she wants to continue to compete in relays and plans to swim in some shorter-distance events at both the New England Intercollegiate Swimming and Diving Association and ECAC Championships next month. 

"I didn't have a talent for sprint so I kind of surprised myself during this (GNAC) meet but I definitely plan to keep it going," Soraghan said. "Hopefully it wasn't beginner's luck."

Other athletes considered for the December honor were Colby-Sawyer College men's basketball player Dana Bean, Plymouth State University men's basketball player Jaylen Leroy, Merrimack College women's basketball player Mayson Kimball, University of Maine men's hockey player Brendan Robbins, Franklin Pierce University women's hockey player Haley Parker and Manchester West cross-country runner Julia Robitaille.

Bean, a sophomore center from Franklin, averaged 15.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game and shot 46.4 percent from the field over a 5-1 month for Colby-Sawyer. Leroy, a sophomore guard from Manchester, averaged 22.3 points per game over a 3-3 December campaign for Plymouth State. Kimball, a freshman from Webster, averaged 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists over a 4-2 month for Merrimack.

Robbins, a junior forward from Nashua, recorded five points (three goals, two assists) over a 5-0-1 December campaign for Maine. Parker, a freshman forward from Londonderry, logged four points (two goals, two assists) over a 3-0-1 month for Franklin Pierce. 

Robitaille, a junior, placed 13th overall and first among runners from the Northeast Region with a time of 18 minutes, 2.3 seconds at the Nike Cross Nationals meet on Dec. 2.

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Previous 2017 winners: January, Natalie Giraldi, Bedford (swimming); February, Devin Gilligan, Amherst (basketball); March, Joey Glynn, Portsmouth (basketball); April, Rob Hart, Londonderry (lacrosse); May, Brennen Oxford, Durham (baseball); June, Cody Morissette, Exeter (baseball); July, Mike Martel, New Ipswich (golf); August, Chelsea Sedlar, Merrimack (golf); September, Jacob Szulc, Concord (football); October, Hayleigh LeTourneau, Bristol (field hockey); November, Jackie Gaughan, Exeter (cross-country).

To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at and enter "Athlete of the Month" in the subject line. Athlete of the Month recipients are honored at the annual Leaders: A Celebration of Sports Champions event held in February.

NH People Sports College Athlete of the Month