Last year, a swimmer at LHS would look around and see swimmers and coaches swarming the deck and the bleachers. As they gracefully dove, they would hear the cheers from their teammates through the chaotic waters. Their heart would pound as an opposing swimmer trailed behind them, in a heated competition to the finish. However, this season, as a swimmer dives in to compete, the pool is desolate except for coaches John Weaver and Andy Endress, as well as the few other swimmers that wait on deck to compete for their own event. Cheering is prohibited due to fear of spreading germs, so only the splashing of the water fills the silence.
Due to COVID, new guidelines have been implemented which have changed the environment of LHS swimming. The season is seven weeks, which is only half as long as last year’s season, and a total of five meets. Since the meets are virtual, the team stays at the home pool instead of travelling to other towns to compete. Times are sent in through a platform and then are compared with another town’s times. Virtually competing means that swimmers only race against their own teammates, which Bridget Duquette, a senior swimmer at LHS, says has changed the way swimmers motivate themselves. “This year it’s definitely a lot more self-driven motivation, and that kind of goes along with having another team to race,” Bridget says. “You really are racing yourself and your previous times trying to PR…It’s definitely a lot harder.” Additionally, not having the Western Mass or State Tournament this year has furthermore affected the level of motivation in athletes. Anthony Marino, who has swam all four years he has been at LHS, says, “Having no Western Mass or States this year really sets back how much you want to work yourself..for me as as senior I would want to be working up to getting to western mass or qualifying for states, but because we don’t have it this year I think I’m more lax and I just want to enjoy who I’m with.” To help his swimmers with motivation, head coach John Weaver instills curiosity in them instead of pressure. He states, “If you go into a race with the mindset of I wonder how I’ll do instead of I’m going to go fast or I’m going to go slow, then it’s just a better mindset.”
Along with the changes in how meets are run, practices are also conducted differently from normal. There are two separate practices, each with fourteen to fifteen swimmers, and three at most per lane. There is one swimmer per end of the lane, and a third swimmer stands at the flags. On deck, swimmers have masks on at all times, with their masks clipped onto the wall six feet apart. When they cross paths in a lane, one swimmer goes underwater to avoid breathing on each other. For meets, all swimmers and divers are set up outside the pool six feet apart in the hallway until their event. There are designated entrances and exits to limit close contact as much as possible. Social distancing protocols have made it more difficult for the team to interact. Evelyn Erofeyev, a sophomore swimmer at LHS, says, “Last year it was definitely such a fun season overall because everything we did outside the pool…we all just hung out together a lot. It was a whole family dynamic, and we can’t really do that…but at meets we’re gonna try to keep that team feeling of being a team and being altogether.”
Under these odd circumstances, swimmers look to their coaches and seniors for guidance. Bridget emphasized the importance of enforcing the guidelines, saying, “As the coaching staff and as the senior captains, we’ve been pushing everyone to the best of our abilities to make sure that when they’re on the pool deck, when they’re entering and leaving practice, they’re doing everything they can to stay safe and stay socially distanced and where masks, and we try to emphasize doing that outside the pool as well.” Seniors have undertaken the duty to not only enforce the guidelines, but motivate the younger swimmers. Anthony says, “I think we’re all just trying to encourage everyone to try to do their best, and work together with the people who you’re with and have fun.” For Coach Weaver, adapting to the guidelines has meant finding new tactics to interact with swimmers. Since conferencing with swimmers after events is prohibited, he and co-head coach Endress email them personalized notes about improvements and drills to use.
Despite having to adapt to a much different environment, both the swimmers and coaches are grateful for the opportunity to safely participate in the sport they love. Coach Weaver says that the swimmers “enjoy somewhat of the normalcy this brings to their life.” Evelyn, Anthony, and Bridget agreed that they feel safe participating in swimming this year because of the precautions everyone is taking to protect each other. “I do think swimming is safe because both of my coaches are very persistent that people follow protocols,” says Anthony. “I think all of us just need to be careful of who we surround ourselves with outside of the pool.”