It’s a season that’s all about providing the kids opportunity.
That’s the sentiment echoed by many local high school swim and dive coaches as they’ve navigated the obstacles the coronavirus pandemic has presented to their sport.
Some pools have been permanently shuttered due to the effects of the pandemic, leaving programs searching for a new facility to compete at.
Other teams are holding their practices early in the morning before school. Many squads are also splitting up their day between multiple groups in an effort to get adequate pool time for all athletes.
And — despite being a low-risk sport — impacts from safety protocols on recreational pools have taken away the ability for many teams to have in-person meets, relegating squads to virtual competition.
It all comes while other traditional fall sports athletes have returned to in-person competitions and recently welcomed back fans.
“This has been difficult, but the kids are resilient,” Lake Stevens swim coach Sarah Summers said. “We’re making the best of a tricky situation and trying to do the best we can.”
The challenges have been plenty, but coaches aren’t letting that deter them from rallying together to provide a unique experience for their athletes.
In lieu of in-person meets, coaches have compiled what’s called the “Wesco ladder,” a time trial list that provides athletes the chance to see where they stack up against the rest of their league peers.
Coaches hold time trials for the ladder each week, record their athletes’ times via touchpad or stopwatch, enter them into a program and report their results to Lake Stevens assistant coach Brady Dykgraaf, who then compiles the list with results for all teams.
“We were trying to find out different ways to give kids competition and be able to set goals and all of that kind of stuff,” Dykgraaf said. “That was kind of the goal that we could have a season that’s meaningful and cool, even if it was different than a normal year where we get to race all these other schools.”
It’s been a hit for the athletes.
“I know when I show up with that ladder the girls want it,” Cascade swim coach Eric Smith said. “They want to see where they are. They want to see if they move up, if another person moves up. If they were top in an event, they want to make sure they’re still on top. It’s a lot of fun.
“It shows the girls where they rank so they have a goal for improvement, but it also gives them this picture of, ‘Hey, I’m not the only one out here doing this.’”
The idea came as coaches were brainstorming a way to provide some sort of normalcy in a season that’s far from it. As the season approached, it was clear the year would be far different than normal and holding in-person meets wasn’t going to be possible for most.
“It was a solid couple weeks of late nights, phone calls and Zoom meetings and all those kinds of things,” Dykgraaf said.
He added: “I can’t say enough about the team (of coaches) in general because it was everyone kind of brainstorming. It was a little idea from this person and then a text message to someone else. It kind of built as more people had ideas and added to it. So it was really organic. It was kind of a problem solving thing.”
The size of facilities is largely what’s pushed teams to determine how they’re holding practice and competition this year. There are limits on how many people can be in a lane and on the deck.
Some schools are blessed with large facilities like the Snohomish Aquatic Center where Snohomish and Glacier Peak practice.
Panthers swim coach Jenny Service said her team of just over 30 is able to practice in full. The team holds its practice in the mornings before school starts. Glacier Peak uses the pool in the afternoon.
The Snohomish divers also practice in the afternoon, which has allowed a couple Snohomish athletes the unique opportunity to swim and dive in the same season.
“It’s been really great for the girls to get a chance to try something new,” Service said.
Other teams have been limited in what they can do for pool time.
The Shoreline Pool shut down when the pandemic hit. The pool was already set to close after the summer of 2021, but the pandemic accelerated its shuttering, leaving Shorecrest and Shorewood without an indoor facility to use quicker than expected.
Both teams are practicing outdoors as a result.
“They’ve been totally OK with that,” Shorecrest swim coach Bill Murray said. “They’re more happy that we have a place to be.”
The Scots are using the four-lane outdoor pool at the Sheridan Beach Community Club. Shorecrest is splitting its practices into three different sessions due to the constraints of a four-lane facility. The varsity swimmers get 50 minutes and the remaining two groups 40 each.
Murray said the Scots can have 16 athletes at each session.
The team’s divers are competing at a separate location. They travel to Everett to use Mariner’s pool for practice at 7 a.m.
“We never see them,” Murray said. “So that’s a really kind of disheartening thing about this, too. We’re already kind of a separate program, and now it feels more separated than ever. We can’t see their meets. They can’t come to our meets.”
The Forest Park Pool in Everett, one of two facilities the Cascade and Everett high teams alternate between throughout the season, also shut its doors.
Both teams continue to use the pool at the Everett YMCA on Colby Avenue and are now using the pool at Kamiak as well.
The teams’ divers, which also practice with Jackson and Archbishop Murphy, practice at 5:30 a.m. at Mariner.
“It’s rough because there’s just not that many facilities that have diving available when you take Forest Park and the Shoreline Pool out of the mix,” Smith said.
After spending the entirety of last season on the road, Lake Stevens swimmers and divers are finally getting a shot to get back in their own pool.
The Vikings racked up roughly 2,000 miles of travel last season while their on-campus pool was undergoing construction as part of their high school’s remodel.
Their first practices back home haven’t been able to be in full because of facility size. Lake Stevens divvies up swim sessions between the morning and afternoon. Divers hit the pool at 5:30 a.m.
“This is just the best we could do under these circumstances,” Summers said. “And our goal — my goal — is I just want to keep these girls safe. That’s the one thing we keep telling them all the time. They’ve just been fantastic about wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. None of them want to get sick and make their teammates sick. It’s just kind of a team effort to make sure we get through this safely.”
As the season has progressed, some sort of normalcy has returned.
Divers have been able to meet for in-person competition on Saturdays at Kamiak.
Last week, the Shoreline schools met for a three-day-long outdoor meet at Arden Swimming Club.
“I know from just simply looking at their times, it made a difference,” Murray said of the in-person meet. “Their times were much faster than our first two weeks just doing the ladder time trials. So having that competition made a huge difference.”
Kamiak coach Chris Erickson said his team also has a pair of in-person meets planned at its on-campus pool to close the season. The Knights face Mariner Thursday and Cascade on Monday.
Erickson said he plans to swim half his team in the first meet and the other half in the next so everybody gets a shot at an in-person meet.
“They like racing each other, but it’s just not the same if you have somebody else on the other side,” Erickson said “That way you can get a little pumped up and excited.”
The conference and its coaches are also putting together a virtual all-league meet for their athletes to finish the season. Teams have until Monday to submit their results.
“Some of these kids are going to be collegiate all-stars,” Dykgraaf said. “They’re going to be really truly gifted swimmers, and they’re all going to be racing — some of them for the first time in over a year. … (It) will be pretty fun to watch these kids go fast.”
It’s been a difficult season, but everyone is getting through it together.
“The girls have made this season amazing,” Service said. “They always come in with a positive attitude. They’re always ready to work hard.”