Swim team dives into competition, faces setbacks

Brittany Cornelison

Preparing to spring back into the back stroke, senior Clara Phillips hangs on to the edge of the pool. Photo by Asa Lory
Preparing to spring back into the back stroke, senior Clara Phillips hangs on to the edge of the pool. Photo by Asa Lory

After an intense season last year ending with their first ever state championship, the girls swimming team is working even harder for the upcoming State Championship Preliminaries on Feb. 15.

However, competing is proving to be difficult because of recent changes to the organization of the team. With a new year came a big change in the coaching staff, bringing in math teacher Peter Willett as the girls’ head coach. On top of this, allegedly seven of the former swimmers chose to continue their swimming career elsewhere.

Many girls now swim on the private team at Columbia Swim Club. Junior Madeline Simon is one of these girls who made the transfer. Last year Simon swam for RBHS, but she decided to commit this year solely to CSC, where she has competed for seven years. She explained the main difference between the two teams is intensity.

“It was more about where I was with swimming and where I wanted to be, and with my goals, the training is just a little bit different [at CSC], and there’s more yardage with CSC than there is with high school usually,” Simon said. “I’ve been swimming with them for so long [that] it’s just like the culture I’ve grown into, and high school is just a completely different culture.”

Though many swimmers decided to leave the team for CSC, several made the opposite decision. Senior Clara Phillips swam with CSC for two years before she joined RBHS. She decided that staying with the high school team would be the most beneficial for her and her interests. Phillips said the seriousness of the private team would be too much for her to manage.

“I’m not that intense about swimming, and I like RBHS because I like the friends that I have on the team.” Phillips said. “I also run cross country in the fall and track in the spring, so I don’t really have time to do anything else.”

Simon said CSC practices some days for two and a half hours in the morning and two and a half hours at night. When compared to the RBHS team, who only practice an hour and a half per day, the CSC team members seem to have more dedication to the sport, Phillips said.

“CSC, for me, it felt like less of a family as high school swimming. It’s definitely more intense because when I was there they had eight practices a week,” Phillips said. “Last year when we had a lot of girls from CSC, our team was really good because they were all really serious swimmers and have been swimming since they were really young.”

However, Phillips is not the only swimmer who remained at RBHS for this season. The team still has a strong 20 swimmers, eight freshman, six sophomores, two juniors and four seniors.

“[This year is] a lot younger team. … Way more than half of our girls are freshman and sophomores. It’s a less experienced group of girls, but it’s a fun group to coach,” Willett said. “Those girls, it’s not like they left Rock Bridge to go swim for CSC. It’s that they’ve been swimming CSC since they were eight or nine.”

Alongside the tough loss of many talented swimmers, the remaining girls keep a positive outlook, which Willett said allows the team to keep pressing forward. Simon said she felt like the RBHS swimming team didn’t offer her goals tailored to what she was interested in improving. Though she appreciated her time with the RBHS team, she was more intrigued by the high standards of the private team.

“At RBHS our goal was basically to go to state and then to win state once we’re there. … So it was based on the meets that we had, and with CSC, it’s different meets so there’s different goals,” Simon said. “I mean, it was a great experience to do high school, it’s just more like a one time thing.”

This season, the team placed third in the Independence Invite Dec. 15 and won its two duals against North Kansas City High School Dec. 24 and Jan. 1. The team qualifies for two relays at the state competition Feb. 15 and 16. Willett expects several to qualify individually in many competitions as well as dropping times.

“The girls are having fun. No season goes perfectly, but I think the girls have a lot of potential and I think we’re learning,” Willett said. “It’s not over yet. … This is a rebuilding year.”
By Brittany Cornelison