The key to success? Over 500 miles of practice


Maddy Eppard and Mac Strobel

At 5:30 am on a Tuesday, 41 swimmers walk into the high school. Class won’t start for another two hours, but for swimmers, their day started with a 4:45 alarm. The swimmers wait in the hall for only a minute to be let into the locker room. They waste no time, as they are suited up and in the pool within ten minutes. While other athletes might spend half an hour getting dressed in the locker room, warming up, and talking to coaches about what the practice ahead will entail, swimmers dive in.

  On this Monday morning, the large whiteboard on the far side of the pool lists ten workouts. With little haste, Coach Steve Bowyer calls out the first workout. He names sets and reps that are unfathomable to the non-swimmer. To someone with little knowledge in the sport, the precise distance isn’t easy to understand, but it’s easy to see the numbers are high. 

  The swimmers now understand the full workout, and Bowyer turns on a large timer that will keep them at pace for every lap. Many of the seniors take up lanes one through three while the fastest of the underclassmen swim in the adjacent lanes. They swim set after set with no formal breaks. The only way to catch a break is to finish the set before the timer is up, though in only a few seconds the next set will begin.

  The swimmers exit the water once or twice during the entirety of the practice. Even then,  only for a few seconds to grab their kickboards. The black lines of text on the whiteboard slowly disappear because Bowyer erases each as it is completed. Time moves quickly, and as the swimmers near the end of their workout, only a few reveal the pain of the conditioning. For most, their pace has not faltered throughout, and the workout seems like nothing unusual.

 Hard work is the norm for the Panthers, and these morning practices occur every Monday and Wednesday for the entire season.

  The hours accumulated by a WO swimmer is stunning, and the distance they cover is almost unimaginable. During the season, the Panthers practice twice a week for one hour and 15 minutes in the morning along with two and a half hour practices every day after school.  Their meets last approximately two hours. With the season running from late November to early March, each swimmer spends 250 hours either at practice, a meet, or an invitational. Through spending such a large amount of time in the water, the swimmers are able to cover a huge distance by the end of the season.

  Bowyer estimated that the average Panther swimmer would cover somewhere between 35,000-40,000 yards per week:  4,000 yards in the morning and between 5,000-6,000 yards in the afternoon. According to these estimates, a Panther swimmer would cover 946,500 yards over the course of the season. This would equate to almost 538 miles, or swimming across the width of Lake Michigan five and a half times. This distance may seem extreme, but studying the incredible success of the WO swim team,  these numbers come as much less of a surprise.

   On Tuesday, February 5, the boys hard work paid off once again when they beat Grand Haven in a home dual meet with a score of 185 to 121. They have not lost a dual meet since February 6, 2014, making this their 47th consecutive dual meet victory. In fact, this year’s seniors have never lost a dual meet, team invitational meet, or conference championship throughout all of high school and middle school.

  Sr. Christian Rottier feels happy with the team’s performance Tuesday night. “I feel the team as a whole did really well! We’ve had a very successful team over the last few years with 46 dual meet wins in a row and 36 for the senior class. Everyone on the team works extremely hard to keep up with this streak, and it’s a privilege to train with the whole team every day.”

  Sr. Derek Maas agrees with Rottier and looks forward to demonstrating their talent at the big upcoming meets. “We seem to be peaking around the right time, and I am excited for the conference and state meet.”

  While Tuesday night the boys had a strong performance, this was not a one time occurrence. Their entire season has been incredible, and many of the boys have had impressive individual accomplishments. In the first home meet of the season both Maas and Sr. Khadin Soto set pool records against Zeeland. At the West Michigan Relays Soph. Joshua Rottier, Jr. Kyle Langdon, Soto, and Christian set a new relay record in the 200 breaststroke relay swimming at 1:51.26. At the Zeeland Invitational, Maas set a new pool record in the 100 swimming a 50.59.

  Currently, the team is ranked first in Division I by Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association. With the success so far, the team is forecast to have strong finish to their season. “We’ve had a great season so far. The guys have been training really hard, and obviously we have a pretty special group of seniors this year. We’ve gone undefeated in dual meets and won the last three conference meets, so we’re focusing in on winning another OK Red Conference Meet in a week and a half then getting ready for the state meet,” Bowyer said.    

  In recent years, West Ottawa’s swimming program has been highly ranked. Last season the Panthers placed second in the state, and many recent West Ottawa swimmers have gained recognition individually. Most notably, two years prior swimmer Spencer Carl placed as a state champion. West Ottawa’s program consistently produces collegiate swimmers like Tabahn Afrik, Kyle Maas, and Julian Barrios, all of whom swim for Division I colleges. When looking at the miles swum, the time spent conditioning, and the hard work given by the athletes, it is obvious West Ottawa has earned their success.

  The OK Red Conference Meet will take place Thursday, February 21.