Boys swim ‘splashes and dashes’ into delayed season


Junior Fletcher Smith and Head Coach James Schuler at South Lyon East this season. Smith has qualified to race at the state meet in March (Photo courtesy of Coach James Schuler).

Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

Nearly two months after the original start date, winter sports athletes in the state of Michigan were permitted to begin their seasons. COVID-19 has taken its toll on nearly every aspect of individuals’ lives, and athletics were no exception; competitors, parents, and coaches statewide were eager to begin practices and competitions, regardless of the modifications made to ensure safety. On Jan. 18, MHS boys swimmers and divers finally set foot on deck, plunging into the weeks of training to follow. 

Though the season itself has been shortened to accommodate the already-delayed spring sports and extended fall sports timeframe, the team is thrilled about the opportunity its members have to improve and bond together.  “Just getting back in the pool and competing with the boys again has been great, especially since we never knew if the season would happen or not,” said Senior Robby Stowe. The teammates are excited to experience the unity of past and new connections, as well as grow together in the coming weeks with the addition of Head Coach James Schuler, who previously coached the girls’ team amid COVID alterations. For Coach Schuler, the experience coaching the boys and girls teams has been different primarily in the time allotted to each; the girls began outdoor practices while waiting for approval to practice inside, whereas the boys were delayed with numerous shutdowns and a shortened season. “There would normally be a little bit more balance with the workload ramp up at the start of the season, but this year, there was no time for that,” Coach Schuler shared. “For non-State qualifiers, the season is eight weeks long, in comparison to 13 or 14 weeks in a normal year.”

Major changes have taken place regarding the team’s operation in the early stages of its season, COVID related or not. In addition to spreading out at practices and meets, wearing masks and limited traditions being maintained for safety, some aspects of the ‘normal’ the boys experience have changed too. “This season has been different than last season because we have a new coach and we also graduated a large number of seniors last year,” said Junior Fletcher Smith. “Our season was cut short by almost two months and we are not allowed to have any invitationals because of COVID restrictions.” He, like many others, wishes to have more competitions to compete in, even if it is not modeled the same. “Adjusting to COVID has been a challenge for all of us. The main difference being team bonding and other individual interactions; for example, there hasn’t been a locker room or team parties, which means a large portion of team bonding has been null and void,” Junior Kyle Scheck explained. Scheck agreed with Smith in regards to the modified meets: “[There is] strain on the usual meet interactions,” he said. “Meets themselves have changed to a degree that they’re difficult to compete in, as well as maintain team spirit in.” 

The pace at which the boys must prepare for ‘Leagues’ has put them in a position of amplified physical and emotional strain unlike prior seasons. During the team’s third week of practice, they began competing, and quickly realized how crucial time management and efficiency would be to achieving their desired successes. “The meets have been pretty tough so far this year because we started competing right after we started practicing,” said Stowe. “Since COVID shortened our season, we have to get conditioned quickly, so we can compete at our bests for conferences.” After two turbulent meets, the swimmers began to overcome the fatigue that had plagued their previous races, resulting in a turning point in their times and outlooks on the coming weeks. “The first two meets you could tell we had only been practicing for three weeks, and towards the end of meets, we were really burned out,” said Coach Schuler. During the third meet of the season against Waterford, however, the team saw immense improvement in its members’ conditioning and performance. “While not as much is possible given the amount of time we have had to practice, the overall improvement in technique has been nice to see as well,” Coach Schuler added. Going forward, Coach Schuler and the boys alike hope that despite the strangeness of it all, they will continue to grow together throughout the season and in future years as the program is further developed. 

Even without the impact of the pandemic, many changes have been made and enforced to encourage a positive athletic and team environment, factoring in discipline, devotion, and preparedness. As explained by Coach Schuler, there are three vital ‘cornerstones’ to prosperity built into a team’s functionality: great communication, organization, and program identity. All of these elements reinforce the ideologies of leading by example and putting in the necessary effort in and out of the pool to attain success. Though these ideas have begun to be incorporated this winter, there is still room for growth ahead: “We have worked to build habits and routines that good teams have so that as we finish this season and move into a normal season next year, they will have the foundation to build themselves into a more competitive team,” Coach Schuler explained. The swimmers have taken notice of the impact these changes have had: “I feel the practices are preparing me and the rest of the team well for our meets,” Smith shared. “Coach Schuler is working hard to develop a strong team culture and to teach the new swimmers the skills they need to be successful in the pool.”

The dedication amidst the numerous obstacles the team has faced has not gone unnoticed; each member has high expectations for himself and his teammates and is striving to peak conditioning and success in the remaining portion of the season. “Personally, this season, I’m hoping to rank up my 500 freestyle and finish top three in the district,” said Scheck. “It’s a big step up from 8th place (last year), but I know I can make it.” Regardless of a difficult beginning, the boys are hopeful they can surpass previous personal records. “Individually, I would like to place at the Division-1 State Meet in at least one of my events. In addition, I would like to be All-County in one or both of my events,” Smith said. “As a team, I would like to see our relays place well at the Conference Meet and would like to see all swimmers achieve personal best times.”  

As the boys prepare to take the conference competition in March, they will continue to be grateful for each opportunity and will make the most of their modified season. The successes they have already achieved have set them up for future growth, part of which Coach Schuler attributes to “getting teams to trust the process.” Together, the team is ready to overcome any challenges that emerge on their path to Conferences, knowing that their efforts will not be in vain. “Practicing and completing can be fun in and of itself, but when those practices and competitions have purpose and an athlete believes in them, they can reach for higher goals and achieve them, and that makes it special,” Coach Schuler said. “To get to the end of the girls’ season and for their faith to be rewarded with results was an awesome experience, and I can’t wait to see the results the boys have at their conference meet.”