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SCHOOL SWIMMING NOTEBOOK

For some teams, competitions are a new virtual reality amid pandemic

Swimmers such as Concord-Carlisle's Sophia Eckler have to get used to a new format in which they are not competing head to head with their opponents.
Swimmers such as Concord-Carlisle's Sophia Eckler have to get used to a new format in which they are not competing head to head with their opponents.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

High school swimming & diving looks very different in Eastern Mass. than it did at this time last year. For one, many meets are conducted virtually, with teams competing across multiple days in order to comply with capacity restrictions at their venues.

One such team is Concord-Carlisle, which had its first meet in its new format on Wednesday and Thursday. Half of the team competed on Wednesday, while the other half swam 24 hours later. However, the Patriots’ opponent, Westford Academy, won’t complete its half of the meet until Saturday and Sunday.

“You’re competing against someone that you can’t see, and you don’t know what they’re going to do,” Concord-Carlisle coach Matt Goldberg said. “You’ve just to get up and swim your race, dive your dives, and not really pay attention or have any idea of what’s going to happen with the other team.”

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Concord-Carlisle swimming coach Matt Goldberg (far left with megaphone) talks to members of his teams during a recent practice.
Concord-Carlisle swimming coach Matt Goldberg (far left with megaphone) talks to members of his teams during a recent practice.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Westford will be in the dark as well on Saturday and Sunday. Once all swimmers have finished with the meet on Sunday, coaches will share the official times with each other in order to determine a winner. Knowing the times beforehand would lend an unfair competitive advantage to the team competing later.

The new format, however, makes it so that even swimmers on the same team lack a sense of continuity from day to day. Since they aren’t competing together, athletes can’t cheer on half of their team or bond over results — good or bad.

“I think it’s really difficult to be split apart. You’re not with your whole team, you feel separated from each other, and you don’t know what had gone on in the second half or the other session,” C-C senior captain Sophia Eckler said.

The Patriots are keenly aware of two results, however, as freshman Alana Leen broke a pair of school records in her first high school meet. Her 2:14.08 200 individual medley shattered the previous school record of 2:16.95 set by Katherine O’Shea in 2016. Leen followed that performance with a 1:00.52 100 backstroke, breaking the previous school record of 1:01.76 set by Hailey Beyer in 2018.

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Goldberg said that many of his swimmers have a heightened appreciation for the limited time they get in the pool, which has translated into improved results both in practice and in competition.

“I think we’ve had a lot of successful swims, and we were still able to get out of the water and feel good about our events, especially when you see people going as fast or faster than they did last year,” senior captain Cara Fritz said.

For senior captain Charlie Reichle, a returning Globe Athlete of the Year, the changes to the meet format have been especially noticeable. The Georgetown commit and three-time Division 1 diving state champion splits his time between swimming and diving. Since only half of the team competes at a time, the pace of the meet is much faster, giving him less time to recover and adjust between events.

As part of the COVID-19 modifications this season, Concord-Carlisle swimmers wear masks when they are not in the pool.
As part of the COVID-19 modifications this season, Concord-Carlisle swimmers wear masks when they are not in the pool.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Regardless of what the clock says when the swimmers hit the wall or what the judges call out after a dive, however, fellow captain Maddie Burns said that through all the year’s differences, simply being in the pool has been a much-needed constant.

“I think at this point, we’re all just doing our best, and I think even the support from our teammates helps a lot,” Burns said. “So I think we’re just doing a lot better than we expected to, and I think we’re all thankful to even be swimming during times like this.”

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Diving in

▪ Most other teams will be competing in their first meets beginning this week, although schedules are subject to change. Division 2 girls’ champion Duxbury is scheduled to compete against the Hanover/Marshfield co-op next week to start the newly formatted winter season.

▪ Defending Division 2 boys’ champion Wayland is swimming Saturday against Weston, which finished fourth in the D2 state meet last season, while Division 1 boys’ champion St. John’s Prep will open its season next Wednesday at home against St. John’s (Shrewsbury).

Globe correspondent Andrew Lin contributed to this report.