Madison Ford was all smiles, gathering with her Acton-Boxborough teammates for a group photo after the team won its annual Coaches Invitational swim meet Oct. 2 at Sudbury’s Atkinson Pool.
Ford swam four events, including the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, and anchored the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays. For the senior and returning All-Scholastic, it was the most events she’d competed in this fall.
In late August, Ford was diagnosed with mononucleosis, a nightmare for a competitor in a cardio sport, and was told to stay out of the pool.
After missing early practices, as well as the team’s first two meets, Ford returned just a couple of weeks ago.
“This is just the second meet that I swam the 100 and the 200 free,” said Ford. “I’m glad that I am getting back to shape.’’
Despite being narrowly edged out in the 100-freestyle, the senior took the 200 freestyle with ease, finishing in 2:01.97, three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
With longtime coach Jeff Johnson’s grueling training regimen, Ford’s road back hasn’t been easy.
“The first day coming back to practice, I was so out of shape and so weak,” said Ford. “I have been pushing myself to keep pace with everyone else, and I have been working hard even on our days off so I can get to the point where everyone is at.”
Even for teammates not returning from illness, like junior Rachel Xiang, the training takes a toll.
“I only swim the high school season,” said Xiang. “The first couple practices I’m so out of shape, I just go home and go to sleep. After a couple weeks, your body is much more used to the workload.”
A team training session consists of land-based workouts that include running and core exercises like wall-sits. That’s before the Colonials get into the pool, where they swim an average of 2 or 3 miles a day at practice.
“There are some expectations that we have to uphold,” said junior Isabella Saarinen. “A-B has a reputation of doing pretty well in meets in events, so coach works us very hard. We get out of it what we put in.”
Saarinen is a new part of the Colonials’ All-Scholastic 200-yard freestyle relay that includes Ford and Xiang. Last year’s foursome set a record in November (1:40.22) at the Division 1 state meet, at which the Colonials were second overall.
Last Sunday, the 200-free relay picked up where it left off, topping Natick and Newton North with a time of 1:45.91.
With the year’s first big meet out of the way, the Colonials will now begin working on shaving times in preparation for the sectional meet. The ultimate goal is posting the year’s best time at the state meet Nov. 20 at Harvard, where A-B hopes it can steal events from Andover, winners of 14 of the last 15 Division 1 state meet titles.
“As the months go on, we will get faster,” said Ford. “We’ll be tapered and ready to go. I’m really excited to build up to where I want to be.”
As a freshman, Wellesley diver Kate Mullin was right where she needed to be. She posted a Division 2 state meet record in the 1-meter dive at 515.70, but was narrowly topped by Hannah Phelan of Bishop Feehan (517.85).
This year, not only has Phelan graduated, but Feehan, which won four straight Division 2 titles, is now swimming in the winter season, opening the door for other programs like Wellesley.
“They were always very strong,” said Wellesley coach Jennifer Dutton. “It certainly changes things for those of us who would like to fight for states.”
The Raiders came in fourth last season at the state meet, with 31 of the team’s 205 points coming in the diving competition from Mullin and Emily Bhatt, who finished fifth.
Mullin and Bhatt, along with newcomer Emma Petrovich, will be counted on to do well Nov. 20 in the dive event.
“The diving portion of the meet is worth a lot,” said Mullin. “To have a small group of divers that can put up big numbers, it makes big difference.”
While diving does not have the same endurance demands as swimming, the training process is rigorous. Wellesley divers take anywhere from 35 to 50 dives daily. The goal is the same as their swimming teammates: Post your best number at states.
“We focus on reps,” said Wellesley dive coach Ruth Clifford. “It is one thing to be able to do the dive; it is another to be able to do the dive consistently. The more consistent you can be, the better chance you have at scoring well at those big meets.”
Early in the season, Mullin is focused on qualifying her lower-difficulty dives for states so she can turn her attention to perfecting her tougher ones, like her favorite, a front 1½ with a twist.
Along with reps on the board, Raider divers watch film and work on flexibility out of the pool.
“In order to do the harder dives you have to mentally train yourself,” said Mullin. “That is equally important to the physical training.”
Michael McMahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.