From Tiger to Wolverine: Ridgefield's Hunt will swim for Michigan

Connor Hunt, Ridgefield’s record-setting swimmer, will join the University of Michigan program later this year.

It’s a big step in a career already chock-full of big moments, but as far as Tigers coach Ronald Vaughan is concerned, Hunt is well-equipped to handle the transition.

“He’s a very self-driven person and Big Blue Nation is going to accept him with open arms,” Vaughan said. “I believe he’s going to be one of those guys who will lead that program at a young age. He’s that type of leader and he’s a coach’s dream.”

For Hunt, picking a college destination was a “hard choice” but he said he’s confident he made the right decision with Michigan.

“When I was on my college search, I wanted to be in a competitive team environment, and also a really great academic environment,” Hunt said. “I want to study business and Michigan has one of the best undergrad business schools in the country with Ross (School of Business), so that was a great opportunity for me.

“Between that and it being a great (swim) program, with really great coaches, that’s why I made my choice.”

Hunt will be rejoining former Ridgefield teammate A.J. Bornstein, who is a junior with the Wolverines this season. Hunt said he spoke with Bornstein numerous times before verbally committing in September 2020, and then signing his national letter of intent in November.

“I talked to him a bunch,” Hunt said. “He gave me any information that I needed and that was extremely helpful. When I went out and visited last fall, he was always there if I needed anything. He definitely made it feel like home.”

Hunt was a freshman on the Ridgefield team when Kieran Smith, now a junior at the University of Florida, and Bornstein were seniors, and those elite swimmers then passed the baton to Hunt.

As a sophomore, Hunt continued the Tigers’ swimming legacy by winning the 200 and 500 freestyle at the CIAC Class LL and State Open meets.

“It’s great and it’s an honor to be a part of something like that,” Hunt said of Ridgefield’s success. “I remember Kieran was always like a big brother to me, and with him and AJ handing off the program to me for the next few years, we certainly had a tremendous group come through there and it’s been great.”

As a junior, Hunt became a team captain and was named the MVP of the FCIAC swimming finals. He won the 200 and 500 freestyle events, and his 500 time of 4:25.40 broke the conference record of 4:30.63, which had been set by Smith in 2016.

The season ended in disappointment, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the CIAC to cancel its winter tournaments when Ridgefield had a real shot at winning a state championship. There are no state tournaments this year either, meaning Hunt and the Tigers will miss out on competing for the crown twice.

“We felt we were on the verge of winning the (state) championship, so that was a real bummer for us,” Hunt said. “And this year, not having a state championship to swim for is tough. We’re just trying to make the most of our dual meets and the (FCIAC) meet at the end of the season. Having in-person meets right now, with everything that’s been going on, we’re really grateful for that, so we’re trying to make the best of the opportunity that we’ve been given.”

Vaughan, who took over the Ridgefield program this season after coaching at Xavier, said Hunt and the seniors have been key to keeping the Tigers focused this year.

“The winter sports seniors were affected by this more than anyone,” Vaughan said. “Ridgefield could have two Class L championships — this year maybe and last year definitely. So for (the seniors) to keep the focus throughout the entirety of this and keep the team together has been huge.”

Last summer, Hunt was able to connect with both Smith and Bornstein to try some open-water swimming in Ridgefield.

“When the shutdown started, there was nothing organized going on, so I did a little backyard pool training,” Hunt said. “Then I swam open water with Kieran, a couple of times with AJ, over in one of the lakes in Ridgefield. That was one of the times where I was able to start getting a social connection with people again. Just to be with those guys again was great.”

Hunt and the Tigers are making the most of this season, and have their sights set on being in contention for the FCIAC championship in March.

After that, the Ridgefield senior said he’ll be busy getting ready for the move to Michigan.

“I’ll be swimming at Olympic trials in June, so that’ll be a big step,” Hunt said. “That’s going to be my first time really swimming at a very high-pressure meet. That will be a great experience to prep me for college and the pressure that comes with swimming for such a great program.”

Vaughan is confident Hunt will make a smooth transition from Tiger to Wolverine.

“He’s a great leader and he’s a two-year captain of the program, so obviously he’s respected by his teammates not only in the water but outside of the pool as well,” Vaughan said. “His grades are great, he’s very diligent about his work, and he’s the one that brings everyone together on the same mission.

“Connor is all about his craft and the craft isn’t just what’s in the water, it’s what he’s doing in the classroom as well, and what he plans to do in the future.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports