The summer swim season is underway, and local teams are having a splashing good time.
The Columbia Hurricanes are swimming, diving and thriving this season. The largest Columbia swim team in years is off to a fast start, taking a 3-2 record into Saturday’s meet against Sparta.
The Hurricanes had seen their numbers drop in recent years, but this summer brought a surge of new young swimmers.
There are 81 swimmers on the team, and for the first time in years, enough kids for each age group to field a relay team.
Columbia coach Bart Jones is pleased with the numbers, and noted the balance of younger and older swimmers as one of the team’s strengths. The Hurricanes have gotten “good performances from a lot of different kids,” he said.
While the 8-and-under and 9-10 age groups have racked up the most points in the pool, Jones insisted that the ‘Canes wouldn’t be where they are without the leadership of their most seasoned swimmers, including Cheyanne Newland, Zoe Hejna and Connor Flack.
“They’re great swimmers and great character kids,” Jones said of the skilled trio. “They’re helping a lot with the large number of young swimmers we have this year.”
With talent and experience on their side, the Hurricanes have their sights set on a Kaskaskia Conference championship. But Jones won’t let his team get ahead of themselves.
“I feel like we have a good shot at conference this year,” said Jones, “but to borrow from Yoda, much to learn we still have.”
The Waterloo Piranhas, though still struggling with the lack of a city pool, are continuing to show spirit and resiliency.
The Piranhas have been without a real home since the Waterloo city pool closed after the summer of 2009. The team practiced at the Monroe County YMCA for a few years before moving to Camp Wartburg last summer.
Coach Vickie Kehrer is extremely gracious for Camp Wartburg’s service and availability.
“We’re extremely happy to rent an outdoor pool for practices,” she said, adding that a gentleman has graciously purchased material and built three dive blocks for the team.
While the Piranhas have a part-time pool (all meets are held at opposing pools), they are still looking for swimmers to fill it. There are just 40 kids on the team this year, several of whom were unaware that Waterloo still had a swim team due to the lack of a city pool.
Those low numbers have certainly played a part in the Piranhas’ tough start to the season. Waterloo’s record stands at 0-5, but it’s not for lack of trying. Kehrer says her team has worked tremendously hard, but that her swimmers are simply outnumbered.
“It’s very difficult to compete against teams that have twice as many kids,” she said. “They can fill all or most age groups while we struggle to fill as many as we possibly can with approximately 30 swimmers that attend each meet. Other teams have 65, 75, 80 swimmers.”
Still, the Piranhas swim hard against the odds, and have turned in several exceptional performances. Janie Kehrer and Allie Terveer are leading the way for the 15-18 girls age group while fighting through shoulder injuries.
Kehrer also remarked that swimmers across all age groups have shown tremendous improvements throughout the summer. “It’s nothing to see these kids knock off 8, 10, 12 seconds,” she said.
Kehrer credits assistant coach Andrew Dressel, a former swimmer, for such improvements.
“He brings great knowledge and experience with him,” Kehrer said. “I’m very thankful to have him with us this season, as he is teaching me a lot as well.”
The Piranhas will continue their quest for improvement on Saturday when they visit Sparta Country Club.
Dupo’s Hilltoppers Swim Club is also making a splash this summer.
The team owns a deceptive 2-4 record, and more importantly, is learning and having plenty of fun.
The Hilltoppers are considerably younger this season, with plenty of new swimmers. For head coach Salle Plunkett, the lack of experience does not make coaching this team any less fun.
“It’s like a rebuilding year and it’s very rewarding coaching this type of team,” she said. “The kids are eager to learn and work hard trying to improve their times.”
For Plunkett, it’s the work ethic and desire for improvement that counts more than wins and losses.
“Our record is deceiving,” she said. “We may not have the strength right now to beat some of the larger teams, but individually we have shown a vast improvement each meet. The kids are dropping their times drastically. It is so exciting to watch and to see their faces after each race is priceless.”
Plunkett attributes that improvement to assistant coaches Linda Wheatley, Heather Quevreaux and Annette Woldanski, who work with the kids on their strokes and prepare them for meets.
More importantly, however, the Hilltoppers are also learning from each other under the Gator and Mentor programs. Each Friday, the more experienced swimmers work in small groups with younger kids, teaching them stroke and technique.
“It’s so rewarding to watch on Fridays, seeing the kids who have grown up in the program giving back,” Plunkett said.
This mentorship creates a culture of teamwork and sportsmanship, which is Plunkett’s chief concern.
“The thing we are most proud of is how our swimmers are extremely respectful to others,” she said. “It’s so exciting to see our 5 and 6-year-olds cheering for another swimmer on a different team helping them finish a race.”
Dupo’s team has a Thursday road meet at Trenton.
“It’s been a very fun season so far,” she said.