The following is fifth in a series about former BPS athletes currently playing their sport in college.
Former Boston Latin Academy swimmer Tim Connolly came to Latin Academy head coach Mark Thomas in the seventh grade as what Thomas described as “a peanut.” Now with his freshman season of swimming at Bentley University under his belt, Connolly’s transformed from a “peanut” to the school’s record holder for the 200 backstroke.
Connolly “cracked” the previous record in last years North East 10 Conference championships with a blazing time of 1.54.56 seconds. He notes it as a very memorable moment of his young career at Bentley.
“I finished at the wall, looked up and everything finished and accumulated at that moment,” Connolly said in a recent interview. “It was like my entire swimming career coming together. It felt awesome.”
Aside from breaking the record, Connolly helped the Falcons take first place in 6 out of 9 meets and capture second place in that Northeast – 10 Conference Championships this past year. Connolly attributes his recent success in collegiate swimming to solid support from his experience at Latin Academy.
“Swimming at BLA with Mark really helped me when I started swimming at Bentley,” Connolly said in a recent interview. “Especially when preparing for back - to - back meets and just being part of a cohesive team.”
Connolly was a senior captain of his Latin Academy squad of sixty swimmers in 2012, where his experience as a 6 year veteran and solid relationship with longtime coach Thomas helped with his transition into collegiate sports.
“One thing I always admired in Timmy was how he benefitted in the atmosphere at BLA, and how its carried over to Bentley,” Thomas said. “When he was first starting off he really admired the older kids and it was clear that he wanted to be the best he could while he was here.”
Even during Connollys rookie season at Bentley, Thomas kept up with his former swimmer’s progress in the water. During a Latin Academy vs. Waltham meet held at Bentley last winter, Connolly even made an appearance and caught up with his old coach.
“Mark has over 30 years experience and knows a ton of people,” Connolly said.
“He helped me realize the different day to day process between collegiate and high school swimming. He was always very positive and supportive of me.”
Bentley swimming coach Mary Kay Samko also reflected Connolly’s improvements in the water this past year. She talked especially highly of his drive to get better each and every day.
“I didn’t expect such success to happen when he first came to us in September,” Samko recalled. “But as the season progressed, it was his goal to set the school record, and he went out and did it.”
Connolly is also the first leg for the Falcons in both the 200 and 400 team medleys, where Samko praises how he sets the tone for the rest of the team.
This summer Connolly lives in his hometown of Dorchester where he trains as a member of the Weymouth Whales swimming club.
As a student - athlete, Connolly notched a solid 3.0 G.P.A in his first year at a competitive Bentley University, and he hasn’t forgotten his Boston Public School roots.
“For all the BPS athletes now, no activity or sport is out of your reach," Connolly recalled. "There are people out there who will help you in the BPS community. No matter what activity or sport you want to participate in, you can do it.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KannoYoungs.
Colby and Carly Cahill competed in the State Swim Championships at Springfield College over the weekend.
Carly, a freshman at O’Bryant, swam the 50 freestyle with a time of 27.12. Her seed time was 26.37 going into the event.
Colby, a junior at Latin Academy, swam the 100 Backstroke. She went in with a seed time of 1:07.68 and finished with a time of 1:07.16.
Colby was eight / 100ths of a second from qualifying for states when the sectional swim meets were canceled because of the snow storm.
Originally the MIAA said only the swimmers who qualified for states going into sectionals could swim at states. But then the MIAA reversed course, allowing the sectional qualifiers to swim at states as well.
After learning that she would not have one last opportunity to qualify for the state swim meet because last weekend’s sectional meet at MIT was snowed out, Latin Academy junior Colby Cahill planned to accompany her younger sister Carly to Springfield College Saturday — keeping the O’Bryant freshman calm and under control, like a stable pony escorting a racehorse from the paddock to the starting gate.
But the elder Cahill, who would have been eight-100ths of a second away from qualifying for the state meet in the 100 backstroke going into the canceled North Sectional, awoke to the news Tuesday morning that the MIAA had reversed course and is now allowing all individual sectional qualifiers to advance to this weekend’s state championships.
“My mom called me and she told me this morning when I woke up,” Cahill said during a telephone interview. “It’s very exciting. I’m very happy that I’m going to be able to swim now.”
The younger Cahill, who was seeded No. 15 in the 50 freestyle going into sectionals with a time of 26.37 seconds, was happy for her sister.
“It’s good, I can get to see her swim and she how she swims,” said the younger Cahill, who turns 15 on Feb. 20.
The elder Cahill had a seed time of 1 minute 07.68 seconds for sectionals. She needed to swim a 1:07.60 to qualify for states.
Latin Academy also had two relay teams qualify for sectionals that will not be able to move on to states. The Dragons' 200-yard medley relay (Cahill, sophomore Ashley Hickey, senior Sydney McGrath, and eighth-grader Olivia McGrath) was seeded No. 23 at sectionals with a time of 2:12.97. And the school's 200 freestyle relay, which features the same swimmers as the medley, was seeded 19th with a time of 1:58.48.
The MIAA announced last Thursday that sectionals had been canceled because of the impending storm. At the time, it said only the swimmers who had already qualified for the state championships would compete this weekend.
So the elder Cahill hasn’t been practicing because she thought her season was over, while her sister hasn’t been practicing because of the storm.
Latin Academy coach Mark Thomas said the roller coaster of emotions, combined with the lack of practice, will make it difficult for the Cahills to have peak performances this weekend.
“I guess [Colby] is getting a chance to go If indeed she wants to go, but realistically she has two days to practice,” Thomas said. “She hasn’t’ practiced since we walked out of the pool on Thursday and we all walked into my office and checked the MIAA’s website.
“And that’s kind of firmly implanted in the kid's head. We basically all gave each other big hugs and said, ‘It’s sad to have it finish that way,’ but everyone moved on from that.”
But the long weekend also gave the swimmers a chance to rest.
“I’d rather be in my regular routine, actually, but it’s good to rest,” said the elder Cahill, who slept until 11 a.m. Tuesday before her mother broke the news to her about the state meet.
Last week, the younger Cahill said she planned to practice every day after school to prepare for the state meet. She was disappointed that she didn’t have sectionals to gear up for states.
“It’s going to be a big transition,” she said, “because I don’t know what to expect and sectionals prepares you to see how everyone else is going to swim and how you have to move up your ability to theirs.”
The younger Cahill use to follow her sister to the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club to swim when she was around 5 years old and her sister was 7.
“I always want to do what do my sister is doing,” she said. “My sister has always been there. She’s always been a big help. She’s always been at the end of the pool.”
Last week, the elder Cahill said she never even considered skipping the trek to Springfield to support her sister.
“I know she’ll be very nervous and she probably won’t know what to do with herself, but once she gets in that water, I know she’ll probably kick some butt,” she said.
This weekend, she will be there again for her younger sister, even though she will be preparing for her own race as well.
“I’ll still be able to do that,” she said of calming her sister down before the race. “I’m just going to have to show her I’m pretty calm myself.”
No swimmer in the state is more disappointed about this weekend’s North Sectional Swimming and Diving Championships being canceled than Colby Cahill.
The Latin Academy junior was eight/100ths of a second away from qualifying for the state meet in the 100 Backstroke and Sectionals was her last opportunity to do so. The meet was canceled because of the impending snowstorm and the MIAA doesn't have a backup date or facility to hold the event.
“All State qualifiers will move forward to the State Championships on the weekend of 16-17 February,” a note on the MIAA website reads. “Best of luck to all.”
Cahill had a seed time of 1 minute 07.68 seconds for sectionals. She needed to swim a 1:07.60 to qualify for states.
“It was really tough, I didn't know how to take it, but you have to have a positive mindset with it,” she said about an hour after hearing the news. “I worked hard to get to Sectionals and I’m going to work even harder my senior year to get to states.”
While MIAA wrestling and gymnastic meets were already canceled earlier, Latin Academy coach Mark Thomas said the swimming meet was still scheduled to go when they started practice on Thursday afternoon.
By the time they got out of practice around 4 p.m. it was not.
Thomas also said there was some talk Thursday morning about rescheduling it at another facility.
“And now she doesn't get a shot, she’s done,” he said. “It is disappointing that’s all, I feel bad for her. We swim a sport that competes during the winter and I know snow and inclement weather is part of it but still ... The problem with getting locked in with a facility like MIT is they don’t have backup dates.
“I know the guys on the [MIAA swimming committee] and I know they probably tried to do everything possible to get it in.”
The Dragons' 200-yard medley relay (Cahill, sophomore Ashley Hickey, senior Sydney McGrath and eighth-grader Olivia McGrath) were also seeded No. 23 at sectionals with a time of 2:12.97. And the school's 200 freestyle relay, which features the same swimmers as the medley relay, were seeded 19th with a time of 1:58.48.
“To be quite honest we were going for the exposure and to give these kids the experience of going for the two relays,” Thomas said, “but [Cahill] had a heck of a shot [at states].”
On Wednesday, Latin Academy won its 22d overall city championships handily at Madison Park High against the city's only two other swim programs, O’Bryant and East Boston.
“We told the kids this year we want to see them win city's, but our goal is to get as many kids as possible qualified for sectionals,” Thomas said. “City's are a nice event and a nice experience, but we want the kids to shoot beyond that and to have that pulled from underneath us …
“This is what they shoot for all year long to be able to go to this meet.”
The only other city athlete to qualify for Sectionals was Cahill’s sister Carly Cahill, a freshman at the O'Bryant who was seeded No. 15 in the 50 Freestyle with a time of 26.37.
The younger Cahill, however, has already qualified for the state meet.
Big sis said she’s not jealous.
“Me and my sister aren't very competitive like that,” she said. “We are supportive of each other. I’m proud she made it at a young age. it’s good for her. It motivates me to work even harder.”
Still, the elder Cahill said she will be disappointed if the snowstorm doesn't match all the hype.
“Probably Saturday morning I’ll wake up and would be like ‘Wow I could be swimming right now trying to beat all my times in competition,'” she said, “but I have to take it in and be positive.”
The bright side for Cahill is that school is canceled on Friday.
“Yeah I’m very happy about that,” Cahill said. “I’ll probably go sledding, do homework and hang out with friends and relax.”
No matter how loud it got at Wednesday’s Boston City League Swimming Championship at Madison Park, Latin Academy coach Mark Thomas stood calm even as his team held up the first-place trophy for the sixth straight year.
The Dragons won all three relay events, as well as the 200 and 50 freestyle. At the time of the 50 freestyle (the fourth event), the Dragons already had a 23-point cushion. The win was the 22d for Latin Academy in the last 23 years.
“We were 7-4 [this season]. We had four losses, but every single one of those losses were 10 points or less,” Thomas said. “We swam against two all-male teams, [Catholic Memorial] and Malden Catholic.”
The Dragons, a co-ed team scored 130 points to top O’Bryant (77) and East Boston (64). While proud of his swimmers, the coach of 33 years was not complacent.
“A couple of things that I thought would go our way today didn’t" he said. "I was really pleased in the 50 free for [Kevin Zhang] but I honestly thought he could turn it around and do it again in the 100. He fought a good a race and he lost to Justin Chung from O’Bryant, but it was a great race and great meet.”
The freshman Chung beat sophomore Zhang by just .44 seconds.
In Zhang’s win in the 50 free, Thomas said his sophomore’s great start and turn was the key.
“It took a lot of work to get here. I listened to coach Mark. It’s really surprising I won today,” Zhang said.
Zhang was also on the 200- and 400-freestyle realy teams. He was joined in the 200 bysophomore Matteo Grando, who also won the 100 breaststroke in 1 minute, 12.52 seconds. the others on the 200 relay were Sydney McGrath and Ashley Hickey.
The 400 relay team of Zhang, Colby Cahill, Christian Mojica, and Olivia McGrath won in 4:10.88.
“The relays really do kind of make the race because it’s more like [a] team,” Grando said. “You feel the urge to win more because of the team your with. Winning is a great feeling and I think winning with three of your teammates is even better.”
Even though O’Bryant freshman Justin Chung was competing in his first Boston City League swimming championships Wednesday afternoon, he wasn’t shocked by the fact that two of the teams in the three-team field were fighting to be the bridesmaid without much chance of being the bride.
Everyone at the Madison Park pool knew it was a given that Latin Academy (130 points) would walk away with its 22d city championship — leaving O’Bryant (77) and East Boston (64) to battle for second place, as they always do.
“Actually, my sister is a 10th grader, so she swam for BLA last year, I kind of knew about BLA and that they are really good,” said Chung, who along with another freshman, Matthew Cummings, won half of O’Bryant’s individual gold medals to help the Tigers take second place.
O’Bryant coach Juan Tapia was thrilled with the silver, especially since O’Bryant and East Boston split their season series at one win apiece this year.
“For us to beat East Boston, that’s kind of our goal at the beginning of the year, so we’re excited, and to come away with four first-place finishes is pretty amazing,” he said. “We did that a couple years ago. I had two kids graduate last year that I didn’t think I’d be able to replace and I had a group of freshmen that replaced them right away.”
Chung won the 200 individual medley with a personal-best time of 2 minutes 18.07 seconds to give his team a 20-16 lead over the Jets after three events.
"I’m not really that good, it’s not my best stroke,” Chung said of the butterfly leg of the IM. “But in backstroke and breaststroke, I’m good at it, so I went hard. So I tried to go ahead of everybody. And that succeeded. In freestyle, I just tried to hang on to first place.”
East Boston pulled within 2 points of O’Bryant, 32-30, after junior Mateo Galeano won the 100 butterfly with a personal-best 104.24. It was also his first ever gold at a city meet. And he did it with a sore shoulder.
“That was a hard race, and I have been training the whole year for this,” Galeano said. “That’s the outcome I’ve wanted the whole time.
"Happiness, that’s all I can say. Just training hard the whole year and focusing on my goals, that’s all I did.”
Two events later, Chung won his second gold, posting his best time in the 100 freestyle, 56.21. O’Bryant only maintained its 2-point lead, however, because each team scored 7 points in the event.
O’Bryant pulled away from East Boston for good after Cummings shaved 15 seconds off his No. 2-ranked seed time to win the 500 freestyle in a time of 5:53.27. The victory gave the Tigers a 48-38 lead over East Boston after seven events.
“That 500 free was awesome, I think I’ve only put him in it once or twice this year,” Tapia said. “That’s huge because I think East Boston didn’t come in until sixth and my other guy came in fifth.”
East Boston coach David Arinella said one of his captains would have been the top seed in the 500 but, because of personal reasons, he didn’t show up.
“No excuses, but we have a 500 swimmer who is not here today and it made a great difference,”Arinella said. “Without that, we got hammered there. And in a close meet like this, it could go down to the last event maybe for O’Bryant and us. You can’t be behind by that many points.”
Cummings — who also beat the top seed in the 100 backstroke to win his second gold medal with a time of 1:04.62 — said he would have liked to go up against the best in the 500. And he came to the pool Wednesday with the intention of beating Latin Academy in the team standings.
“I think you should have the proper mind-set and think like a winner and don’t think like a sore loser,” he said. “Always think positive. I mean, if they win, they win.They are working hard, we’re working hard."
Tapia said he thinks his team is actually closing the gap with Latin Academy.
“A little bit, yeah, with first-place finishes like that,” he said. “In numbers we can’t match them but if we can get another couple top swimmers, we’d be right there.”
The following are the results from Wednesday's Boston City League swimming championships:
200 Medley Relay- 1. Latin Academy, 2:01.40; 2. O’Bryant, 2:04.77; 3. East Boston, 2:2:17.81.
200 Freestyle- 1. Chistian Mojica, Latin Academy, 2:14.16; 2. Sabrina Chung, Latin Academy, 2:21.81; 3. Savina Tapia, Latin Academy, 2:29.67; 4. Jack Hartnett, East Boston, 2:31.22; 5. Robert Lawless, O’Bryant, 2:32.05; 6. Sam Kauffman, O’Bryant, 2:42.18.
200 Individual Medley- 1. Justin Chung, O’Bryant, 2:18.07; 2. Matteo Grando, Latin Academy, 2:27.24; 3. Mateo Galeano, East Boston, 2:30.90; 4. Jayson Zimitzky, Latin Academy, 2:32.44; 5. Colby Cahill, Latin Academy, 2:40.27; 6. Rip Paizante, East Boston, 2:48.87.
50 Freestyle- 1. Kevin Zhang, Latin Academy, 25.14; 2. Chazz Gverra-Ogiste, O’Bryant, NR; 3. Ben Lara, East Boston, 25. 88; 4. Jonathan Gonzales, Latin Academy, 27.24; 5. Carly Cahill, O’Bryant, 27.33; 6. Roy Perez, East Boston, 28.13.
100 Butterfly- 1. Mateo Galeano, East Boston, 1:04.24; 2. Chazz Guerra-Ogiste, O’Bryant, 1:06.37; 3. Joshua Sanchez, Latin Academy, 1:10.18; 4. Sydney McGrath, Latin Academy, 1:15.91; 5. Savina Tapia, Latin Academy, 1:21.14; 6. Rip Paizante, East Boston, 1:21.52.
100 Freestyle- 1. Justin Chung, O’Bryant, 56.21; 2. Kevin Zhang, Latin Academy, 56. 65; 3. Ben Lara, East Boston, 1:01.16; 4. Luis Santiago, East Boston, 1:01.81; 5. Olivia McGrath, Latin Academy, 1:03.57; 6. Teaghan McLaughlin, Latin Academy, 1:08.37.
500 Freestlye- 1. Matthew Cummings, O’Bryant, 5:53.27; 2. Jayson Zimitzky, 6:00.28, Latin Academy; 3. Sabrina Chung, 6:36.16, Latin Academy; 4. Ashley Hickey, Latin Academy, 6:36.54; 5. Sam Kauffman, O’Bryant, 7:24.58; 6. Jack Hartnett, East Boston, 7:55.02.
200 Freestyle Relay- 1. Latin Academy, 1:52.04; 2. East Boston, 1:59.84; 3. O’Bryant, 2:03.57; 4. Latin Academy, 2:12.97; 5. O’Bryant, 2:25.87; 6. East Boston, 2:38.65.
100 Backstroke- 1. Matthew Cummings, O’Bryant, 1:04.62; 2. Christian Mojica, Latin Academy, 1:05.41; 3. Colby Cahill, Latin Academy, 1:10.00; 4. Pamela Sepulveda, East Boston, 1:16.53; 5. Morgan Clarke, Latin Academy, 1:18.02; 6. Danny Marifiote, East Boston, 1:29.20.
100 Breaststroke- 1. Matteo Grando, Latin Academy, 1:12.52; 2. Luis Santiago, East Boston, 1:16.58; 3. Carly Cahill, O’Bryant, 1:19.58; 4. Ashley Hickey, Latin Academy, 1:19. 75; 5. Margaret Rearden, Latin Academy, 1:24.65; 6. Walter Lopez, East Boston, 1:30.46.
400 Free Relay- 1. Latin Academy, 4:10.88; 2. O’Bryant, 4:22.75; 3. East Boston, 4:34.37; 4. O’Bryant, 5:42.31; 5. East Boston, 5:45.37; 6. Latin Academy, DQ.
Team Scores- 1. Latin Academy, 130; 2. O”Bryant, 77; 3. East Boston, 64.
During last year’s Boston City swimming championships, Cristian Mojica sat on the side of the pool with a stopwatch in his hand.
The Latin Academy swimmer and football player couldn’t perform in the meet due to his poor grades. His father and coach, who also swam and played football for Boston English High back in the late 1980s, forced his son to serve as a time keeper during last year’s meet to teach him a lesson.
The lesson was well learned.
The junior will now compete in the swimming city championships at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Madison Park High and he was named the Boston Scholar Athletes' February Scholar-Athlete of the Month.
“At the beginning of my high school career, I never would’ve thought I would be nominated for that because my grades weren’t where they should’ve been,” Mojica said during a recent swim meet. “But now I stepped my grades up so it feels good to be nominated."
Longtime Latin Academy swimming coach Mark Thomas said Mojica had a 1.66 grade point average last winter and athletes are required to have a 1.67 GPA to participate.
“I honestly don’t think he took it that serious last year and he didn’t think it was a big deal and he’d be able to slide by. Well guess what, he didn’t,” Thomas said. “He came to me and said ‘What can you do?’ I said ‘Cristian there’s nothing I can do. If I could’ve done something I would’ve.' He needed to learn a lesson.
"I think it absolutely killed him to miss the last three or four weeks and not go to the cities. Instead of swimming he sat there and timed, which his father made him do.”
That’s when Thomas made sure that the school’s BSA Zone Facilitator Eliza Bryant was on the case. Now Mojica carries a solid 3.2 GPA.
“He had a good football season [this year], I looked at his grades all fall; they were good coming into this season,” Thomas said. “It was a great turnaround. It’s a good time to turnaround in a kid’s life. It’s what we like to do. I think as far as the [BSA] program they have for these kids, it’s a glowing example of what can be done if a kid wants to do something."
Nobody is more proud than Mojica’s father, Richard Mojica, who coaches the swim team at the Flaherty Swimming Pool in Roslindale. He has also been a volunteer coach at Latin Academy well before his son was old enough to attend the school.
“He took the time to start to pay more attention to what he was doing,” said the elder Mojica, who played football for UMass Boston. “He had a vision of what he wanted. I’ve been trying to encourage him.”
The younger Mojica has been swimming since he was 8-years-old, when his father started working at the Flaherty pool.
“I took to swimming right away because at the time I wasn’t really into sports but I picked up on swimming really quick and it helped having my dad as a coach,” he said. “[I liked] the water. I got to do whatever I wanted. I felt like a fish.”
These days the 100 backstroke is Mojica’s best event. But that wasn’t always the case.
“When I was younger I used to hate backstroke because the water used to get in my face," he said. "But once we were at a meet in New York and I had to swim the backstroke because [my dad] put everyone in the backstroke and I ended up winning the race and after that he started putting me in it more and I started liking it more.”
The 5-foot-9-inch, 210-pounder — who will likely be the No. 1 seed in the 100 backstroke in Wednesday’s city meet — does not exactly have Michael Phelps’ washboard abs.
But he said he loves swimming in big meets because people usually underestimate his ability.
“Most people when they see me they don’t think of me as a swimmer because I don’t look like your average swimmer,” he said. “They are usually like ‘he can’t swim’ and then they come to me after and say ‘oh, I didn’t know you could do that.’ ”
And when he’s playing offensive and defensive line on the football field, he has to hear teammates chide him for his affinity for the water. But Mojica says swimming makes him a better football player and football makes him a better swimmer.
“I swim in the morning every day before a football game because it gets me loose and football, it gets me strong for swimming,” he said. “They say I have anger problems. I like playing football because it helps me take out my anger.
“[Swimming] helps me calm down and relax.”
These days, Mojica is getting it done in the classroom, too.
“I realized I had to put in the work over the sports," he said. "Before, I was more sports minded.“
Juan Tapia won’t be fazed by the fact that the Latin Academy co-ed swim team will likely take its sixth straight and 22d overall Boston City swimming championship title at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon at Madison Park High.
But coming in third behind East Boston in the three-team field and allowing Latin Academy to dominate all of the events will drive the O’Bryant coach batty.
“[East Boston] won at our pool and we won at their pool so it should be good,” he said of the race for second place. “And also [our goal is] to keep Latin Academy out of 1,2,3 [place]; keep them honest. I can’t stand it when they sweep. I don’t mind when they come in 1, 2 and 4 but 1, 2 and 3 just kills me.”
Last year the Dragons (7-4) swept the top three spots in four of the 11 events to cruise to their fifth straight city title and 21st championship in the event’s 22-year history. The Dragons forfeit the 2007 meet after it was discovered that they entered an ineligible player.
“Our goal is to win the cities,” said Latin Academy coach Mark Thomas, who has been coaching the team for 33 years. “We don’t have any goals to take first, second and third in every event, that would not be realistic. We try to spread the wealth around and get as many kids involved as we can.”
East Boston coach David Arinella said his team is at a disadvantage because both Latin Academy and O’Bryant are exam schools that start in the sixth grade and therefore have students start in their swimming programs three years earlier than East Boston does.
“It’s so difficult to beat them, believe me they provide us with great competition, they really do and their coaches are great guys,” said Arinella, who has also been coaching East Boston for 33 years. “We’re not complaining because to be the best you have to beat the best and one of these years we’re going to do it and we’re getting closer every year.”
The battle for second place on Wednesday will be fierce.
Eastie (3-6) beat O’Bryant (4-6) by a score of 84-83 on Jan. 17 at O’Bryant before the Tigers struck back to beat the Jets, 53-48, on Jan. 25 at East Boston.
“Which in swimming is like a nose in horse racing,” Arinella said.
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