Rochester swimming preview: Pandemic limited ability for RHS swimmers to receive coaching
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Spending time in a swimming pool does not make one immune to the coronavirus.
Just as other sports have had to adapt to make their sport safe during the challenging times of a pandemic, swimming has as well.
That’s an obstacle that the Rochester swimming team and coach Stephanie Brown have faced as well.
Now the season starts in full force. The Zebras have their first coed dual home meet of the season against Manchester at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The pandemic has specifically affected Rochester, where it curtailed the Rochester Royals club season, which many swimmers use to prepare for the high school season ahead.
There were open swim times where the team could gather twice a week from July 6-Aug. 3, but school got shut down again for three weeks after that.
Brown has stressed versatility with her swimmers during her coaching tenure. Still, she said a quarantine can have a domino effect on a swimming team that is not like other sports.
“To rewrite a lineup can be quite a task,” RHS coach Stephanie Brown said. “So it’s not like a sport like soccer where you start with 11 guys on the field and if somebody’s not there, you sub in somebody else or basketball, you just sub in somebody else in your starting lineup. … It’s a jigsaw puzzle making a lineup. So even to pull one out, if I’ve already got it down and submitted or whatever, you’ve got to change a lot of things around.
“And with this kind of stuff, it can be very last-minute. And of course, that’s no one’s fault. But it’s just the nature of how things are.”
No fans will be allowed at home meets. There are other precautions too that go beyond the pool that could help with contact tracing if necessary. When they get on a bus, there are seating charts. Those who aren’t in the pool during a meet must sit in chairs that are six feet apart from one another.
“We can’t obviously wear masks at practice when we’re in the pool,” Brown said. “But we’re wearing them on the pool deck. Every time we’re in the weight room, we take a picture of who they weightlift with, so we know who they were partners with, and then it’s time-stamped on my phone. Every day at swim practice, I take a picture of who they swam with that day, so it’s time and date-stamped on my phone. … We just have to be really careful with everything. It’s a lot of things to do and keep track of and unfortunately a lot of things that don’t have anything to do with swimming fast. It’s the nature of what life is right now.”
Brown recounted a talk she had with the girls team. She noted that the social distancing doesn’t aid in building team camaraderie.
“I know this isn’t fun,” she told them, “but this is how we get to keep having a season.”
The most accomplished returnee of the RHS returnees is junior Makenna Beall, who finished 31st at the IHSAA state finals in the 500 freestyle in 2019 and 32nd in the 500 free in 2020.
She also holds the three fastest times in school history in the event.
She was also second in the 200 freestyle at the sectional.
Of the 241 points the Lady Zs scored at last year’s sectional, she was partially or totally responsible 101 of them.
“Our goals are always to do more and swim faster than we did the year before,” Brown said.
Like Beall, Ellie Shank has also shown an ability to swim the distance events.
“We look to our seniors to be leaders, and some of them have different roles as a leader than others do just depending on personality and comfort level and all that, but she’s definitely a leader by example, and she’s definitely a vocal leader,” Brown said of Shank. “She’s got experience. She’s been around for a long time.”
The challenge might be developing those who can compete in the sprint freestyle events. Paige Bode and Maegan McGlothin, RHS’ top two sprinters last year, graduated. Girls like Beall, Elena Bode, Elizabeth Swango, Shank and sophomores Kendyll Bradley and Zoe Seward could emerge in those events.
Bella Riffle is a sophomore who has surprised the coaching staff, according to Brown.
“She’s just one of those quiet girls that just works hard and does what she’s supposed to do,” Brown said. “But she’s getting faster and getting stronger and developing into a high school swimmer for sure.”
Shank, Swango and Ashlynn Hudkins are the three seniors. Swango and Riffle are the top returnees in the butterfly and backstroke.
Madilyn Calloway rounds out the junior class that also includes Beall and Bode.
Sophomore Molly Vance-Gruss is the top returnee in the breaststroke. Seward and Melody Hisey are newcomers from the sophomore class.
Anthony Peterson, Ethan Brady and Braxton Jimenez are the team’s three seniors.
Peterson is the team’s top returnee in the backstroke.
“Anthony is more of a quiet leader,” Brown said. “So it will be fun to watch and see how they take on that leadership role as seniors this year and what they do with that. Anthony is pretty quiet and reserved, so I’m thinking he may come out of his shell a little this year. That will be fun to see.”
Brady is the most experienced returnee in the breaststroke, but his skill is not limited to that one stroke, according to Brown.
“Ethan will definitely be swimming the breaststroke for us, but he’s really turned into a versatile swimmer where he can pretty much swim anything I put him in,” Brown said.
Layne Backus, Peyton Hiatt and Dylan Steininger are the team’s three juniors. Brown described Backus as a “fighter in the pool” and is the team’s top sprint freestyle returnee.
Steininger’s top events are the 200 individual medley, in which he missed qualifying for the sectional final by 0.09 seconds, and the 500 freestyle, where he has broken six minutes previously. However, he also has swam legs on the spring relays.
R.J. Keranko is a promising sophomore who swam competitively for the first time last year.
“Now that he knows how to swim, now it’s time to get faster and get stronger and get some meat on his bones, and then he can get stronger and faster,” Brown said.
The team’s four freshmen are Tanner Reese, Lane Shank, Wesley Steininger and Jacob Seuferer. Sophomore Jacob Freeman is also a newcomer to high school swimming.
Seuferer has extensive experience in the distance events at the club level and “can do just about anything,” according to Brown.
As Brown puts together the puzzle that is the lineup, the missing piece might be the butterfly. RHS did not get a point at sectionals from this event. While there are multiple swimmers who can swim the event, Brown explained that there are few swimmers who specialize in the event.
“We’ve got some boys we can fill in there,” Brown said. “We’ve got both Steininger boys and Jake Seuferer and Ethan. All those boys can swim the butterfly. Their strengths or favorite events are in other places, so when we do big events like sectionals where we want them to place as high as they can, we’re not necessarily going to put them in that if they are stronger somewhere else.”
Jimenez and juniors Bradly Bickle and Kadin Kelly are the team’s three divers. Kelly was 18th at the diving regional in 2019 and 17th at the regional in 2020.
The team has no girls divers.
In addition to the Manchester meet, RHS has three other home coed meets, all of which will occur within a week of each other: Jan. 7 vs. Maconaquah, Jan. 12 vs. Tippecanoe Valley and Jan. 14 vs. Eastern (Greentown).
Maconaquah will host the TRC meet Jan. 23.
Warsaw will host the girls sectional Feb. 4-6 and the boys sectional Feb. 18-20.
Valparaiso will host the girls diving regional Feb. 9 and the boys diving regional Feb. 23.