During several meets this season, Seymour girls swimming coach Nick Blade has received inquiries from his athletes regarding how their opponent has fared — questions that are not expected during a traditional swim meet.
Yet this fall has been been anything but traditional or typical for all sports teams, with swimming and diving topping the list as having one of the more different looks, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some schools are holding the traditional, in-person meets, but numerous teams, many of which don’t have pools at their school, are conducting virtual meets, making the 2020 season a unique experience for many swimmers and divers.
Seymour, which competes in the NVL South Region with Naugatuck, Oxford, Watertown and Woodland, has been taking part in both in-person and virtual meets. As of Friday, the Wildcats have participated in three virtual meets and three in-person competitions.
Virtual meets involve opposing teams swimming and diving at their own facilities on the same day. Officials are present at each facility, the team results/scores are tabulated, then compared.
“We have not been great in the virtual meets,” said Blade, whose team sported a record of 5-0, heading into its virtual meet against NVL rival Naugatuck on Friday. “It has been tough sometimes, to get up and go. The thrill of beating an opponent that is there with you is not present at a virtual meet.”
Indeed, motivation is one of the issues involving virtual meets the athletes and coach must navigate their way around.
“They have mentioned that it’s tough swimming by themselves, so we are telling them to keep it in their head and that we are still trying to win,” Blade said.
For Friday’s meet against NVL foe Naugatuck, the Seymour athletes donned their faster Tech suits, which are mostly worn during postseason/championship meets, in order to perform at their optimum level.
“The intensity is higher during in-person meets than virtual and you can tell by the results of how they swim,” Blade said. “However, our team is still swimming pretty quick. Sometimes at the virtual meets, they come up to me asking how the other team is doing — it’s not like seeing live results.”
Lauralton Hall coach Paul Katz, whose squad is part of the SCC A Region with Cheshire, Daniel Hand, Hamden, Jonathan Law, Mercy and North Haven, is seeing his team compete in virtual meets in all of its competitions this season, as are each squad in the region.
He said the meets have gone smoothly and are well organized, but it’s not quite the same for the competitors who are racing.
“Our swimmers have had some good times,” said Katz, who is in his first season at the helm, after serving as an assistant coach at Lauralton Hall for six seasons. “But it’s tough for them to reach the level of performance that they’ve done when they are aware of what the other team is doing.”
While some virtual meets are held with both teams competing at their respective facilities at the same time, some squads have taken part in them the same day, but at different hours, due to the availability of the team’s pool.
“Typically, our competitors are swimming in the early afternoon and all our meets, we are competing at 7:15 p.m., so we don’t know what they have done, they don’t know what we’ve done and sometimes when we finish, we don’t know the other team’s results are,” Katz said. “I wouldn’t judge virtual meets as being severely limited. We get fired up with the information we have and do what we can to stay motivated. The team feels good about it and though the virtual aspect does take some of the traditional excitement out of the picture, it doesn’t entirely do so.”
Making a key lineup change during a particular meet is an aspect that doesn’t match up with meets held virtually.
“What we can’t do is make an on-the-fly call as a coach,” Katz said. “If we got ourselves in a little trouble, usually we may be able to get ourselves out of it by switching two swimmers. So you make the lineup out as best as you can.”
Being back in the pool has served as motivation for the athletes Katz believes.
“What I’ve observed is there is a natural excitement among them from so many months of not being in the game,” he said. “I’ve asked the swimmers to visualize their race and I think that creates motivation.”
Like Lauralton Hall, SCC A Region team North Haven has a schedule featuring all virtual meets. North Haven senior Maddie Bergin, who will swim at Fordham University next season, has adjusted to the change in competition, along with her teammates.
“Competing in virtual meets is definitely very different,” said Bergin, who owns North Haven swim records in the 50-yard freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 100 butterfly. “We have to learn how to race against the clock, since there are no opponents in the pool with us. Not being able to have our opponents in the pool with us feels different, but we are swimming to the best of our ability. We are thriving during unprecedented times. My fellow captains and I try to motivate the team as much as we can. I want to make my mark during my senior season, knowing I only have a few chances, so I want to end the season well.”
North Haven coach Martha Phelan is impressed with how her team has kept its focus while swimming in virtual meets only.
“It has not affected our team’s mindset at all,” said Phelan, whose team won the Class M championship last fall. “We make sure we talk about what we have to do and how we have to step out of our comfort zone. I think the more you talk about it and stay positive about it, the more used to it you get.”
Coached by Marj Trifone, defending Class L champion Darien has been able to hold traditional in-person meets at the Darien YMCA. They’ve also traveled to FCIAC West Region foes Greenwich, New Canaan YMCA and Westhill, so all of Darien’s meets this season have been in person.
Yet Trifone’s summer team at Middlesex Club in Darien held virtual meets.
“With the little kids over the summer, you were able to get away with it a little bit, because they were just happy to have some sort of swim setting,” said Trifone, who coached the Blue Wave to the FCIAC and Class L team titles in 2019. “With the older kids during the summer, it was a struggle to get them to do it. The atmosphere was a little bit flat for them. I’m just happy that here at Darien we are getting to do in-person meets. At in-person meets you get to see and feel that spirit surrounding you and that’s when you get a lot of good times.”