Swim team adjusts to new practice, meet protocols

March 10, 2021 — by Neeti Badve and Martin Xu
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Photo by Avani Kongetira

Sophomore Afsoon Modiri, who is in the second cohort of the day, follows practice protocols as she swims breaststroke.

Right before swimming the 100-yard freestyle, senior Lukas Peng looked determinedly across the pool during the first swim meet of the year on Feb. 26. He took off his mask as the whistle was blown and dove into the water, finishing with a career best time of 52.42 seconds.

Peng was completely surprised — he didn’t expect to achieve a career best considering the irregular practices the team has held due to the pandemic.

Because of COVID-19, schools now hold meets individually instead of in the previous dual meet structure, in which two swimmers would race beside their opponents. Scoring works the same — after the league receives and calculates results, teams win meets if they have more points than their predetermined league opponent. 

Although coach Kristen Thomson said she is glad that the team can hold swim meets and livestream them, she believes that morale has dropped compared to previous years.

“It’s the safest way to run a meet during a pandemic, but it’s hard not having the two teams swim with each other,” Thompson said. “The energy and spirit is different due to social distancing, and the JV swimmers don't have the varsity members to learn the cheers from.”

Sophomore Sihan Ma, who swims the 100 butterfly and 500 freestyle on varsity, said the new meet structure is less exciting compared to that of previous years because of the restrictions mandated by the league.

“[The meet] went by really quickly, and there wasn't any food like last year,” Ma said. “We needed our masks whenever we were on deck; if you weren't in the pool or waiting for your event, you would be in your little boxed-off area.”

Such levels of restrictions extend to practice as well. Traditionally, the swim team reserves a spot for all students interested in joining. This year, however, the team held tryouts for the first time ever, as the school introduced a limit on the number of athletes participating to reduce COVID-19 risk.

The amount of time in each practice session has also been decreased from two and a half hours to only one hour, but with two different sessions to allow as many swimmers as possible to access the pool. Even then, swimmers still have many restrictions to follow.

When entering the pool, they have to enter from the parking lot side entry and answer “no” to all questions from the CDC COVID-19 Questionnaire. Latecomers are not allowed in the pool.

Once on the pool deck, swimmers walk in a one-way path to their assigned lanes and leave in the same one-way direction. They have to wear their masks at all times, except for when they are in the pool.

There are only two swimmers allowed per lane, with one on each side of the pool. Once they get into the pool, they must stay on their side of the lane to prevent collisions.

Even with these extensive precautions, some, like Ma, still fear the possibility of contracting COVID-19.

“I don’t think two swimmers per lane could count as proper social distancing, but it’s the best we could do,” Ma said. “If someone were to have COVID-19, our current lane setup probably wouldn't be enough to prevent it from spreading.” 

Nevertheless, the school has tried its best to provide swimmers with the safest environment to swim in. Team members are glad to return to their sport, even in such unpredictable times.

“In any case, it just feels good to be back swimming, so I'm not too nervous about it overall,” Ma said. “I'm getting back in shape; that's good enough for me.”

Thomson and other coaches are excited to be coaching again.

“The entire coaching staff could not be prouder of the effort and dedication our swimmers have shown us this season,” Thomson said. “They are working their tails off in the pool and it is showing. It has been a whirlwind of a season but these kids make it all worth it.”