The last of the Cayman swimmers returned home from the CARIFTA Aquatics Championships on Thursday, and they were greeted with a congratulatory cheer as they entered the arrivals hall at Owen Roberts International Airport. Most of the team had arrived back in Cayman on Wednesday, but the Open Water swimmers came home Thursday morning on the strength of another strong performance.

Cayman finished fifth in medal count at the CARIFTA Swimming Championships, taking home 34 medals in competitive swimming, four medals in Artistic Swimming and three more in Open Water.

The Bahamas led the way in both gold medals (23) and total medals (56) in the pool. Cayman set a record haul of 47 medals at last year’s CARIFTA championships, but with a younger and less experienced group of swimmers, they found plenty to be proud of with their performance this season.

“We did pretty well,” said team captain Matthew Somerville, who was competing in his fifth and final CARIFTA championships. “We came in fifth overall. We would’ve liked to come in fourth, but we’re a pretty young team this year. A lot of our kids just aged up, so it was a pretty good performance overall. I think we were all happy with at least one or two races, and as a team, we did pretty well.”

Sabine Ellison, competing in her fourth CARIFTA games, led the way for Cayman by earning four gold medals and a bronze over the course of the four-day competition. Sabine won her gold medals in the 200 and 400-meter individual medley and in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke.

“I was hoping to do well. I didn’t know if I could win as many golds as I did,” she said. “I’m proud of my performance this year because I felt that I put my best out there for my team. And I really enjoyed the experience of racing with all the kids on this team and all the other Caribbean countries.”

Sabine, 14 years old, won a medal on each day of the competition. She had also won five medals at each of her last two CARIFTA games, but this year she took a step forward in her performance.

Some of Cayman’s medalists pose for a photo after landing at Owen Roberts International Airport Thursday morning after returning from the CARIFTA Aquatics Championships; from left, swimmers Stefano Bonati, Jake Alberga, Sabine Ellison, who won five medals, and Finn Bishop. – photo: Taneos Ramsay

“It’s really fun to see that your hard work pays off,” she said. “It’s just really great to be on this team because everyone’s so supportive. It’s just really fun to swim, not only for myself but for everyone.”

Another youngster, Stefano Bonati, took home four bronze medals in his second CARIFTA games. For Stefano, 12 years old, it meant a lot to perform near his best at the regional championships.

Sabine Ellison, 14 years old, led the way for Cayman’s swimmers.

“I’m pretty proud of my performance,” said Stefano, who medaled in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke and the 100 and 200-meter backstroke. “I got points for the team and I also medaled and broke records. I think I did pretty good in my swims. It took me a little time to settle in because Thursday and Friday weren’t the best. But I think Saturday and Sunday at the end of the meet were really good.”

Cayman also competed at the CARIFTA Games in the Bahamas, and its competitors came home with one gold medal, three silvers and a bronze.

For Matthew, who hopes to attend either University of Notre Dame or Purdue University, it meant a lot to be able to compete with his countrymen at CARIFTA one last time.

“It was a bit sad, because it’s been part of my life for a while now,” he said. “But it was kind of nice because it means there’s new things coming my way. It’s the end of an era, which is interesting.”

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