Lions Swim Team Bond Over Hiking

You really have to feel for the student-athletes of today as they look for a new normal in these COVID-crazy times.

Basketball and hockey teams are adjusting to playing in empty gyms and rinks, without the usual excitement of rabid fans cheering their exploits.

However, it seems there are no more lonely athletes than the high school swimmers who cannot even compete face-to-face this season with their opponents.

As St. John Paul II swimming coach Elisa Smith explained it, her squad recently held a meet with Nauset providing the opposition. However, rather than racing them in person, the Lions swam their 11 events, a meet official recorded the times, and then Nauset did the same thing.

Several days later, the times were compared and the winner of the meet determined. Talk about anticlimactic.

“The worst thing for me is not being able to cheer at our meets, because I get very excited,” said senior Kaitlyn Bresnahan, one of the team’s four captains. “We’re just swimming against the clock instead of against another swimmer.”

Fellow senior captain Sophie Bailey agreed that the virtual meet leaves much to be desired.

“We don’t have the excitement of traveling with the team to another venue. We don’t get to see and compete against the other team and pace yourself against that other swimmer,” she said. “That excitement is not there, but it’s still fun to be able to swim with your team each day.”

Another senior captain, Grace Magnacca added, “It’s just so important to be close as a team and yet Covid makes you have to be so distant,” she said. “It’s hard that we can’t be all together. But it’s such a blessing to have a season this year.”

COVID has also impacted the practice sessions, which are being held at the Village Health and Racquet Club at Pine Hills in Plymouth, rather than the team’s previous home at Sandwich High School.

“We’re really grateful that Pine Hills has allowed us to be here,” said coach Sullivan. “We have two lanes, and we’re just trying to make it work. Our spacing is going well, we have four to a lane for practice in three different cohorts.”

One of the things helping the cohorts is that there are two pair of siblings on the team. Senior captain Alex Stampfl and her eighth-grade sister Michaela, and sophomore Sophie Menyhart and her seventh-grade brother Eric.

According to the coach veteran Bailey, who has been with the squad for four years, Menyhart is the top swimmer on the squad.

“Sophie is strong in every event. She is very versatile and has been swimming for a long time,” said Sullivan, who added, “Leila Evans is an eighth-grader, and she gives Sophie a run for her money.”

Evans is the team’s top butterfly specialist, while Alex Stampfl is a strong breaststroke swimmer, and Bresnahan “is also very strong all-around and she can do anything,” said Sullivan.

“We’re very lucky to have a lot of depth in the fact that they know their strokes,” she continued. “They’re not going to be DQed (disqualified), and they’re willing to do anything I ask of them.”

Comprising the important relay teams, the 200 Medley relay team is made up of Bresnahan (backstroke), Alex Stampfl (breaststroke), Evans (butterfly) and Bailey (freestyle).

Among those who will dot the 200- and 400-freestyle relay teams are Magnacca, Sophie Menyhart, and eighth-graders Lili Crawford and Michaela Stampfl.

Other swimmers who are sure to contribute to the team this season are senior Brennan Loewen, juniors Thomas Williamson and Gregory Maynard, and sophomore Chloe Lawson.

“I’ve told the kids this is about being in the water, moving, having fun with your teammates and really supporting each other,” said coach Sullivan. “They know how important it is for them to be active now. They need something.”

“The first week back, I could just tell in their faces how happy they were to be in the water,” she continued. “I think they’ll be closer than ever this year.”

One of the things which has created some great team unity and camaraderie has been the Friday team hikes. Since the pool at Pine Hills is not available on Fridays, the team has been getting together at various locales in Barnstable for hikes.

“We can’t have what we usually have had, like pasta dinners, where we could be together,” said Alex Stampfl. “So, the hikes have been really helpful because they have the same team-bonding we would have had with the dinners.”

Bresnahan added, “We were missing a lot of the team camaraderie, but we’re doing our best,” she said. “With the team hikes, we can get the whole team together, everyone’s masked up, and we can talk and spend some time together and build that team experience.”

Article by Mike Richard sourced here.