Just 25 more yards. 25 more yards until you’re done. 25 more yards until there is one more meet. 25 more yards until you win the race. 25 five more yards until… the season is paused.
All the training and progress made leading up to the end of the season is suddenly lost. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to the West Ottawa girls swim and dive team.
The swim team has been practicing since summer and competing since September, which means they have been growing and progressing as swimmers for months. Nine of their fastest swimmers qualified to compete in the final meet of the season, the state championship.
The state meet was originally scheduled to be on November 21, just four days after the school shut down. This quarantine has the potential to devastate not just the outcome of the meet, but all the progress that had been built.
Sr. Allie Langdon said, “Once I found out about the second quarantine I just kinda felt defeated and was hoping that we would at least have a state meet.” Understandably, having this big of a drawback at the peak point of their season has had a major impact on the swimmers.
Jr. Kendall Vaara said, “I think that during the quarantine my confidence level was very low because I was scared about how much I could maintain during the quarantine and was worried about losing all the progress I had made.”
The strength and stamina that is necessary for swimmers to compete at the highest level can take months to develop but unfortunately, only days to lose. The possibility of losing the strength they had all achieved to this point of the season was causing mental stress with the unknown of when practices would resume.
Luckily, the swimmers were able to get back into the pool again before their return to school from the shutdown. Sr. Lily Brandt said, “We had six weeks where we were not able to practice as a team, but I was able to do individual lap swims at the Aquatic Center and high school throughout that time.” This gave the swimmers a little hope that the pushed-back state meet might be a little better than expected.
That being said, this does not help strengthen the mental part of the sport. Langdon said “Swimming is a very mental sport. This could be the difference between winning and losing.” Although many swimmers were able to individually swim laps and maintain their physical shape many of them have struggled mentally. Many of them do not feel as prepared as prior meets and are lacking confidence.
Sr. Haley Menghini said, “Going into the meet pre-quarantine I was just pushing to get to the end. I had accomplished all goals I had set for myself so I didn’t have too much expectation. I expected to swim close to the time I swam at the beginning of our championship season. Two and a half months later, I honestly have no idea how my body will react to everything; I, just like my other teammates, am in for a surprise.”
Similarly, Brandt said “I was a lot more confident going into the state meet before the quarantine because I was feeling really good swimming. It’s really hard to prepare for the meet in such a short time and not having a regular season of training before the meet makes me less confident about how I will swim now.”
The confidence levels have gone down. With little time before the state meet, many swimmers are not sure what to expect.
Coach Steve Bowyer said, “My biggest fear is that the athletes are going to be disappointed with their performances. Usually, the state meet is a culmination of weeks of hard work with significant time drops. This year it is more about an opportunity to compete, share an experience with your team, and bring closure to the fall season. It will be important that everyone keeps things in perspective in terms of performance and times.”
Overall the swimmers have had one of the biggest changes in high school swimming history. The quarantine has impacted swimmers both mentally and physically. At this point, swimmers know that all they can do is work hard.
Brandt also said, “We were just able to start practices two weeks before the state meet. That does worry me a little bit because that’s not enough time to get harder training in and build up to where we were before the break.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, swimmers were just recently able to get back in the pool and practice. However, swimmers must get tested three times a week for the remainder of the season.
Before the shutdown, the swimmers were on their last stretch of taper. During the taper, swimmers gradually reduce exercise over short periods to increase endurance at the state meet. Menghini said, “Unfortunately the idea taper is kind of out the door. As a team, we know that taper really only lasts for a week and a half to two weeks, so at this point, we’re just trying to put in some extra work to get in as good of shape as possible.”
The swimmers have to go away from their usual training tactics to get back to the shape they were in. Even if this means cutting out the taper, the swimmers are doing the best they can to get the best outcome at this state meet.
Individually swimmers expressed their confidence levels going into the meet but swimming is a team sport. Each swimmer’s score counts towards the team’s score, which determines the team’s place at the meet.
Menghini said, “I think as a team we are going to put our best effort forward. I think I can speak for our team when I say whatever we accomplish together we will be satisfied. This whole season has tugged at our emotions, especially for the senior class. It’s difficult to find motivation at this point to come to practice as our season is going on six months in-season. We’re just excited to have the opportunity to finish the season in some way shape or form. Whatever happens at this point happens.”
The important thing to remember about this season is that every other team is in the same position. The swimmers have to go into the meet with as much confidence as they can because they are just thankful to have the opportunity. Langdon said, “I think the team will do well. I’m sure not everyone’s times are going to be their best but every other team is in the same position so I think we will still do good overall.”
This season is different. It’s safe to say that no one has any idea how this meet is going to turn out. All the coaches and swimmers know at this point is that they have put in all the work they could. With the state meet approaching fast the West Ottawa girls swim and dive team look to make the best of their situation and end the season strong.