by Sam Murphy '20
photos by Avery Rahr '21
At seven in the morning, most teenagers do not want to be awake, nonetheless in a pool. Yet, for 25 Grace student-athletes, Monday and Friday mornings during the winter months began with a literal splash of water in the face. Kaitlyn L. ‘20 said, “The morning practices are definitely really difficult to get into the water, it’s usually freezing, like ice cold. It’s hard to get into cold water at 7 am, you’re sleepy, and you don’t want to be there.”
Since the 2014-15 season, the Grace Varsity Swimming team has had teams that range in size from eighteen members to six. Four of those five seasons, Ms. Walker, High School Counselor, has been the head coach of the swimming team. “The feeling this season was confidence. We had a group of seniors that started when they were sophomores, and each year their skills improved. We were really motivated, and everyone was ready for a good season.”
In swimming, measuring success is more dynamic than it is in other sports. Often swimmers and their coaches will focus on personal improvements to record progress, whether it is a faster opening dive, quicker flip turn, or shaving seconds off a time rather than overall team results. Even though the senior swimmers had gained experience, many of the younger swimmers did not have any experience being on a swim team. “We had a lot more kids who had never swam before and that kind of worried me at first. Not because I was concerned about winning, I just thought we would spend so much time on the basics,” said Evelyn W. ‘21. “But we’re really a family, and you could see how fast people grew during the season just because of the loving environment, and that was really beautiful,” continued Evelyn, who, despite being a sophomore, has been on the team for three years.
Being a high school athlete on any team takes away time, precious time that many students need to get their work done. Being on a team where you regularly have practice before school and late in the evening, organization is key. “It’s hard to manage the homework,” said Kaitlyn, “but you have time after school in-between practice and school. We start practice at 7 pm on some days, so that’s like a two hour period where we can get work done which is helpful.” Ms. Walker explained the desire for students to do well in and out of the pool. “We have incorporated a system where, before finals, we have a practice where we set goals for our academic week because we don’t want excuses like ‘I have to write a big paper this week, I can’t come to swimming.’ We want you to plan ahead. So students are able to manage it with help, and good communication with the coaches.”
Results in previous years for the swim team had not always gone their way, and expectations were kept generally low, however, something this year was different. “The previous years we went in like ‘we’re never going to win’ not that we didn’t take it seriously, but no one expected something of themselves. That really shifted this year, and that’s such a huge shift to say I believe in this team. They believed in themselves,” shared Ms. Walker. This year’s team was led by ten seniors, including Luke M. ‘19 who said, “You could tell the whole team had a lot of respect for the seniors. All of the seniors were captains in their own way, and were really important for setting the tone.”
The prize that had seemingly been out of reach for Grace swimming? Victory at the ACIS championships. A strong season of hard work and determination led the girl's team to a second place finish, highlighted by first place in the girls 400-meter freestyle relay, the final event of the competition. For this team, success did not only come from the rankings; all ten seniors swam a career-best time at their final meet. “It felt good to finally get some wins under our belt, and for all the hard work to actually pay off was really nice.” shared Luke. And as a nod to the future, Carolina L. ‘22 and Leo M. ‘22 made substantial contributions to the team's success all year, the latter having consistently dominated in the 100-meter breaststroke throughout the season. “I was surprised. I didn’t realize I was so good at breaststroke before joining the swim team, and it felt really good to have success so quickly and feel like I was adding to the team,” shared Leo.
Now that the season is over, the swim team must look to the future. Next year they will lose a considerable part of the team as the seniors graduate, but Ms. Walker is ready for the challenges that will come in building a winning team, “I think one measure of success is going to be to maintain or grow… Success will continue to be measured in the next couple years by increased wins at meets. We’re at that point now, the first couple years were just about getting the team numbers and getting personal bests, but now we can say we are ready to win.”