Already behind the 8-ball, as always, because of not having their own home pool to practice and host swim meets, the Indian River High School boys’ and girls’ swimming teams are now also facing the new protocols put in place for COVID-19.
Those protocols for this unique season include a reduced number of swimmers that can be on a team’s roster, and also restrict and limit how many swimmers can be in the pool at a given time.
At least they don’t have to wear protective masks to swim.
IR coaches Colin Crandell (boys’) and Dana Schaefer (girls’) have had to make changes on the fly from what they’re normally accustomed to during a regular season. Luckily, they do have the use of the Howard T. Ennis pool back again this year to get some work in.
“COVID has reduced the number of swimmers that can compete on a team,” Crandell said of the protocols. “Pool restrictions limit how many swimmers can be in the pool. This has changed the whole dynamic of what we’ve done in the past.”
And what are some of those changes?
“Our goals have had to shift because of COVID,” Crandell continued. “We only have five dual meets,” he noted of what are typically 12 or 13 dual meets, “and there is not an official conference meet or state meet at this point. So, we have shifted from team goals to individual goals. We are more concerned with having every swimmer improve in time in their events, versus trying to win a conference meet.
“It’s been hard to coach. Swimming is a sport in which you train for a specific end meet in mind. All of the conditioning, training and resting decisions are based on a final meet in mind. It’s been difficult to coach because the end meet, or ‘target,’ keeps changing. There are talks of conference meets and maybe a state meet, but nothing certain. So, it’s hard to know how hard to push them or when to begin the resting phase of training.”
And, of course, not having an actual “home” pool continues to make things difficult.
“We travel to Georgetown four nights a week to use Ennis and the pool at Sussex Academy,” added Crandell. “It’s exhausting not having a pool close by, but our swimmers are tough-minded and dedicated. They always persevere.”
The Indians boys’ team went 10-2 in their dual meets last year and returns five strong swimmers from that team, including Declan Burke, Zach Lingenfelter, Shane Hall, Jackson Donnelly and R.J. Senseny.
They will be looking to replace the likes of Will Douds and Ethan Forrey, but again, with the COVID restrictions in place, there aren’t many opportunities for the school’s swimmers to do so.
For the girls, Schaefer said she is still excited for the chance to coach another season but is certainly disappointed at having a reduced roster.
“The COVID requirements have cut the number of swimmers on each team in half,” said Schaefer. “That has made me sad, because I miss so many talented girls who had to choose not to swim. These girls were and will always be part of our swim family. We are also not able to introduce new swimmers to the sport this year, stunting our program for the future. Our depth for the meets is severely diminished. Yet, we will swim with strength and spirit this year.”
Returning as seniors, Emma Barthelmess, Lexi Hall, Lauren Carter and Maddie Harris will look to lead the way. Sophomores Bella Scharp and Jordan Gonzalez are also back in the mix.
Barthelmess is back after having a state-qualifying season in 2020. She has already posted a time in practice during the 50-yard free that would qualify for states again this year should they have the season finale. She also has hopes of qualifying in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Hall, a four-year member of the state-qualifying 200-yard medley relay, as well as various free relay teams, is back in the fold, and will be the lead in the 100-yard butterfly.
Last season’s incredible success story, Carter was new to the sport last year, and took the training all the way to the state meet as a member of the 200-yard free relay team. She will swim freestyle again this year.
Harris, who put in countless hours of independent work in the off-season, is going to be participating in the 200 free and 100 butterfly events this year.
Scharp is a tremendously driven athlete who has already come close to her conference championship meet time from a year ago in the 500 free. She is also going to be in the 200 free, and Schaefer is expecting that she will be one of the time leaders on the team.
Dubbed as the team’s “secret weapon” last year, Gonzalez returns to revise her role in a variety of relays and will be counted upon heavily in the 100 backstroke.
There are also four newcomers joining the team who will help now and in the future. Freshman Brynn Crandell — fresh off her impressive season on the cross-country circuit — is looking to make the same type of impact in the pool, swimming the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
Elly Moore, Julia Moran and Lilah Hanley are, according to Schaefer, coming into the program “with a wealth of experience and versatility from the Sea Colony Sharks swim team. They are all capable freestylers and individual medley swimmers.”
“Crazily, this year we are poised to make better times and have greater individual success for our swimmers,” Schaefer continued. “We have had four days in the pool to train. Our workouts have been able to include more yardage and greater access to starting blocks. It’s a glimpse at what we could do and will do with our own pool someday.”
The Indians will be looking to replace Emma Kelly, Elizabeth Towne and Morgan Gray, who were lost to graduation.
“Multi-sport athletes who had to make the tough choice to their other beloved sports are the girls in this high-scoring group: Mya MacDonald, Emma Rickards, Madison Bemis, as well as fierce competitors Nadia Cyzewsky and Maelyn Bryan,” Schaefer noted.
With the group they do have back, Schaefer and the Indians feel confident that they can have success in the pool this season.
“We are looking to swim the best we can, and have fun every day, like it’s the last one we get to race as a team,” concluded Schaefer. “We will be strong contenders in the division with this no-holding-back mentality.”
Both the IR boys and girls will open their season on Friday, Jan. 15, with a meet against Henlopen Athletic Conference South Division foe Seaford at the West Sussex Boys & Girls Club. Their other meets include ones against Lake Forest (Jan. 22), Cape Henlopen (Feb. 1), Dover (Feb. 6) and Sussex Academy (Feb. 9).