Girls Swim and Dive State team plunges into final races amidst shutdown


Photo courtesy of James Schuler

On their last Saturday practice of the season, the girls floated on pool noodles during rest portions of high-intensity interval sprint sets.

Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

After months spent together in and out of the pool, the MHS Girls Swim state team prepared to have one final race together at the MHSAA State Championships, in Grand Rapids, on November 21st. This meet was highly anticipated by everyone involved; Head Coach James Schuler prepared countless sets, workouts, and established routines that translated into successes on spreadsheets, and the girls dedicated themselves to the sport they love, leading up to the biggest meet of their season. Between personal bests, time drops, and breaking Milford School and Lakes Valley Conference records, the athletes were awaiting both their chance at redemption against rival South Lyon and to achieve individual gains. “In a normal year, the state meet is the closest approximation at this level to what I imagine the Olympics feels like,” explained Coach Schuler. “The frenetic energy that overflows from the arena at the State Championships is unlike any I experience at other high school level events. Dozens of teams, hundreds of athletes, thousands of spectators contribute to a constant buzz, like static energy charging to be released in an emphatic thunderclap. That’s what makes this meet so special.” 

This year, the redesigned state meet would be a one-day ordeal with straight finals, no spectators, staged-off spaces for teams, and designated warm up/down times were utilized to control activity on deck. With their exhilaration at an all-time high, the Mavs heard the news of the meet’s postponement just days before they were set to leave Milford. Nonetheless, with the help of Coach Schuler, the girls still had the opportunity to “compete” in their States events, including the 200 and 400-free relays and a variety of individual events for Seniors Rylie Kennedy and Ella Glaspie, at a time trial event hosted at Milford. Though the team missed out on valuable bonding experiences, all were hopeful that the time trials would bring even a small portion of the traditional States’ magic to MHS.

Once the State of Michigan released new information on the allowances of athletics, adjustments had to be made. Teams were no longer allowed to practice together after Wednesday, Nov. 18, so the girls swam together Tuesday evening. “Our state qualifying athletes set very high goals for themselves, specifically in regards to the championship meet, and in the pursuit of those goals, they suffered in every way I asked them to,” Coach Schuler shared.“Early morning lifting, punishing evening practices, and tortuous three hour Saturday efforts, all of it with this end goal in mind. And to not reap the fast times and high places earned by those hard sown seeds of labor? That was something I could not abide.” Thus, Coach Schuler designed a ‘time trial’ meet in which the swimmers raced only the clock–no competitors, fans, travel, or other competition norms were present. “All these things considered, it was the opportunity I wanted, a chance for one last splash and dash to give closure to the hard work they had put in and give a glimpse of what they could have achieved on Saturday,” he said. After circling up for a final cheer, the girls were ready to take on the challenges of the evening. 

When the girls stepped up to the blocks that Tuesday night, all were ready to dominate the events they had pushed so hard to succeed in. “Going into states, my expectations were high. I knew the type of training we had done and the effort my team had put into each practice,” Kennedy said. “We all trained really hard this season, and had to overcome some injuries, but despite all that, we qualified and even came close to some varsity records.” Kennedy herself set a new Milford school and pool record (23.82) in the 50 free, crushing her own previous time of 24.19 from the conference meet. Between numerous bests and relay time drops, all of the girls felt accomplished and that their dedication had proven worthwhile; their coach felt the same: “We had six swims and all six were either season best times or lifetime best times, and that is better than most teams results will have been from similar efforts, especially given the emotional rollercoaster of the prior 48 hours,” Schuler said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the maximum effort that was given on Tuesday night in spite of the circumstances.”

Above all else, the event helped the team build a sense of unity in overcoming hardships. Many of the quirky, humorous moments are what stood out to the athletes as favorite memories, in addition to pivotal swims. “My favorite part was definitely hanging out with the team. Even though States were cancelled, we all kept our spirits up and put forth our best effort at the “state” event,” Glaspie shared. Between using pool noodles during the last Saturday practice, creating a “fake States” playlist, and doing karaoke sessions after practices, the girls valued their bonds outside of the pool as well. 

Each swimmer was grateful to race together at MHS, but there were certainly aspects that stood out as different from the normal competition. “I was mostly looking forward to the drive to and from States, the team dinners, the hotel breakfasts, all the things that would have made lasting memories with my teammates,” Kennedy said. “We spend most of our time together in the pool, but we always have the most fun when we’re all just hanging out.” In all six events in which they were set to compete in, the girls were confident they would have time drops and likely climb the podium, ranking higher by the weekend’s conclusion. “I was looking forward to traveling to States not just to participate but to be very competitive in all of our events. It is one thing to swim fast and drop times and it’s another thing for those times and swims to mean you are scoring points and standing on podiums receiving medals and patches,” Coach Schuler explained. “Given how well we swam at our conference meet, the state meet was brimming with potential and I could not wait to see what the final results of that meet would have been.” Regardless, returning swimmers are ecstatic about what future state meets will hold: “I was looking forward to just being at such a big event with my team,” said Sophomore Mallory Armstrong.  It was going to be an amazing weekend in and out of the pool and it’s disappointing to have missed out on that, but that just means we’ll do it next year and that’s something to hope for.” 

For Coach Schuler, the season was largely successful; the Mavs grew tremendously in their mental and physical capabilities, pushing themselves and each other to reach their fullest potential. As a first year coach, Coach Schuler understood that a learning curve would present itself as a natural barrier to developing relationships with his new team as swimmers adapted to his vision and practices. Once the team grew to know and trust the way things were run, their performance skyrocketed at the Lakeland and Oakland county meets. “Having the team start to believe in themselves the way I did and then for us to finish out our league season the way we did; going to war with South Lyon in a dual meet, finishing 6 and 1 and then placing second at the LVC meet, was the highlight of the year,” Coach Schuler explained. “In the time leading up to states, being able to attain a place where the team could continue to work as hard as I needed them to, but also be able to have a little fun in practice, made coaching even more enjoyable than it already was.” Overall, both Coach Schuler and the girls grew to appreciate the dedication that each contributed to the team’s improvement.

Looking to the future, the swimmers understand the unlikelihood of competing at the level they originally anticipated to be able to at the state meet. Between taking weeks off from the pool and altering the intensity levels during practices, it would be difficult for any athlete to compete with excellence under the circumstances. “As athletes and coaches, we are all very aware that there is no guarantee that a meet will happen on December 23rd and it will present an immense mental challenge to return to training hard for something that might get canceled again,” Coach Schuler said. “Should the state meet happen on December 23rd, it will be a skewed and warped representation of what the meet would have looked like and I am not quite sure what we will be able to take away from the results other than we were able to have the meet and finish off the season.” Glaspie agreed, adding a hopeful spin on the potential situation to race ahead: “If there is a state meet, I think the results won’t accurately reflect the hard work our team has put in,” Glaspie stated. “It’s difficult to come off a three-week break and only train for a few weeks, but I’m going to try to stay optimistic about the situation.”

Fall athletes needed to be resilient. The girls knew how fragile the state of their season was, due to protocols and safety alterations made, but they were willing to persevere in hopes of having a successful season. On an individual scale, all of the swimmers felt it important to embrace situations as they came. “I learned that I am capable of enduring a lot more than I thought, and I learned to deal with quickly changing situations,” shared Malik. “This helped me to just be grateful for every practice/meet we got throughout the season and leading up to states.” Armstrong agreed: “I think the team, especially the state team, got a lot closer this year. We knew there was a chance that the season wouldn’t go on, and that we could be pulled out at any time, and I think that made us try even harder.” The new opportunities that came with the situations also shifted the way the athletes viewed their training and mindsets. “During all this, I learned that I had to become more disciplined in my sport and work harder in my weaker areas. This year, as crazy as it sounds, I’m thankful they put us into quarantine. It put me out of my normal routine, and because of this I was able to refocus on my goals and do what I needed to do to achieve them,” Kennedy stated.

On a final note of appreciation, Coach Schuler thanked his athletes. “I could not have been more proud to coach athletes who are willing to chase their potential and buy into a new system on the promise of success,” he said. “Seniors Ella Glaspie, Riley Coesens, and Rylie Kennedy have contributed immensely to our team’s success both this year and helping lay the foundation of success for the future and it was a joy to coach them for this one season. Junior Anna Malik and Sophomore Mallory Armstrong will be back next year as team leaders and I can’t wait to see how they build off the experience of this year to achieve new goals next year.”