Club and non-club swimmers create unified team

Peter Kalibat '14 swims in the individual medley. photo: Stephanie Tam

Peter Kalibat ’14 swims in the individual medley.
photo: Stephanie Tam

When asked to describe the atmosphere of their group, members of the boys and girls swim teams had answers from “welcoming” to “focused” to “enthusiastic.” While the variety of these answers could paint a number of different pictures of the environment of the swim team, the many things its members wish to get out of it—from solid wins and personal bests, to a fun high school experience and a place to belong—the members of the swim teams have made it clear that despite their different objectives, they have become a cohesive unit through their time together.

Whereas most sports require the attendance of their athletes at all practices, PHS’s swim teams are unique in that their major scorers in swim meets do not attend the majority of the teams’ practices. In fact, PHS swimmers who also participate in a club team during the winter season are only required to attend six practices and swim a minimum of 1,000 yards per practice before their first meet. Although this is a fraction of the 3,000–6,000 yards non-club swimmers swim daily, it is trusted that club swimmers will get their necessary workout in at another pool.

“Because the team swimmers are going to all the team practices I feel like it’s my job to go to all my team practices and not let down my other teammates,” said Peddie club team and PHS team swimmer Will Kinney ’17.

According to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, all competitors on high school teams must attend six practices before competing with their high school team. Head Coach Greg Hand feels that requiring students to attend more than this amount would not be productive. “We have to give due respect to the fact that the kids that are training outside [of school practices] are challenging themselves to a great degree,” said Hand. “It’s not productive to require them to give double the hours [by attending club and school practices]”.

As this means that the athletes scoring the majority of the points at the more high-profile meets are different than the athletes attending the majority of the practices, there is some division within the team. “I feel like there is a separation between the club swimmers and the non-club swimmers, but as a team [we definitely] make an effort to close that gap,” said Hannah Ash ’15.

Although this division does exist, the activities that the team does together, such as competing in meets, going to team-bonding events, and taking the bus home after competition, help make the members a more cohesive group of athletes. Colburn Yu ’14 pointed to the beginning-of-the-season pasta party as one of the events particularly helpful in bonding the team in that it helped the swimmers get to know one another before spending a season together.

Ash agreed that although the pasta party was key to bonding, the bus rides were actually the most effective. “There are actually a lot of really key bonding moments on the bus, especially after a really successful meet,” said Ash. “Everyone’s really enthusiastic and happy, and there’s a lot of random conversation going on. You might talk to someone you might not hang out with at meets.”

Even with everyone operating as friends, Hand takes time during some meets to ensure that everyone contributes to the team’s record. “I’m not a club swimmer and I definitely still feel like part of the team—especially in the meets when club swimmers can’t come, [and the non-club swimmers] have to really step up,” said Charlotte Singer ’15.

“If we get to [a] situation where we have a meet where … the final score is unlikely to be in question, it is my view that it is the best choice [is] to give training opportunities to the kids who train in clubs,” said Hand. Meets where PHS draws all of its competitors from a pool of non-club swimmers allow part of the team the ability to train more and the other the ability to contribute to the teams’ undefeated dual meet records.

Although club swimmers and non-club swimmers may compete in different meets or go to different practices, the support team members offer one another is also a major factor in unifying the team. “I feel like I fit right in. Everyone’s really welcoming and really supportive,” said Kinney.

Stephanie Tam ’15 has experienced the team from both the viewpoint of a club swimmer and a swimmer who practices solely on the PHS deck. “When I was a freshman I was a club swimmer,” said Tam, who quit the Peddie Aquatic Association club team a year ago. “It’s a little scary because you don’t really know anyone [at first] … but eventually everyone gets to know each other.”

“It helped that all the upperclassmen were really welcoming and warm,” said X-Cel swimmer Jamie Liu ’17, adding that getting to know the other freshmen on the team and meeting people through her sister Belinda Liu ’14, a co-captain for the girls, also helped her feel like she belonged. “Since I’m closer to [Madeleine Deardorff ’16 and Melinda Tang ’17], I guess [the support] is more personal,” said Liu of the X-Cel teammates she knew coming into the team. “[But] everyone’s so supportive … There’s always [people] cheering behind every single lane at all the meets.”

“You’re really at home, and everyone is so nice—the swim team is like a huge family,” said Tam. “It’s nice that we get to practice with boys and girls; it sort of adds a different part to swimming that another sport [doesn’t have].”

According to Tam and Matt Purdy ’14, working as a “family” has been combined with a “focused” atmosphere to create success for the team. “[The swim team has] a hardworking atmosphere where no one is slacking off, and everyone’s really diligent about their work and their practice time,” said Purdy.

“There’s always some pressure on everyone, [but] it’s not really about winning,” said Liu. “It’s about doing what you can for the team, so everyone’s just all in.”

This work and avid cheering was able to propel both swim teams to undefeated dual meet seasons and Sectional Championship wins. Additionally, the girls team repeated its victory at Mercer County Championships while the boys team won its fourth County Championship title in a row.

Though the girls team’s season ended after a 76–94 loss to Ocean City High School, the boys team progressed to the final round of the state tournament. The meet came down to the last relay, during which Princeton needed to place first and third in order to add ten points to its score and overcome a two point deficit. After a second and third place finish, the Princeton boys lost to Moorestown by four points.