GS Swimming and Diving Team: New Coach, Same Goals

Chyna James

Head coach Laura Thomas said many people are misguided in judging them when they are in a new place, but the swimmers don’t need recognition to get them motivated. They let their talent speak for itself.

“When we travel, everyone thinks we’re either a soccer team, a softball team or track. They never think swimming and diving,” Thomas said.

Even though the swim team might not be the first sport to pop up in someone’s mind, it sure doesn’t stop the team from being dedicated and giving it their all, in and out of the water.

New Leadership

Swimming is a demanding sport. From the early practices at 6 a.m. to not being able to shave their legs; from having a “dry” season to balancing school in the midst of it all, the team still managed to get through the season. This is thanks in part to the leadership of a new head coach.

“My style is a little bit different from the other coach and of course they have to get used to that,” Thomas said. “But it’s been great and everyone just has really made me feel at home. Being a head coach was very, very attractive for me and I’m really happy to be here.”

Coach Thomas was at Northern Arizona University prior to coming to GS and she decided to add Kristin Walker as assistant coach.

Walker is also a graduate student who swam for the University of New Mexico. She really appreciates the different perspective that comes with the transition from having a coach to being a coach.

“We have the same philosophies, we work really well together and she’s been my right hand,” Thomas said. “We’re really a good team.”

At the very first meeting with a few of the athletics administrators, the Athletic Director introduced the acronym E.A.G.L.E.S. to Coach Thomas. It stands for excellence, accountability, gratitude, leadership, enthusiasm and service.

“When we do things I try to keep this in mind. This is what drives my thought processes when I am coaching.” Thomas said.

Athlete Perspective

Junior GS swimmer Kiera McCormack has had the opportunity to experience different coaching styles from the previous to the current coach.

McCormack has been able to benefit from both coaches, and she loves both of them and appreciates what they have been able to add to her experience on the team thus far.

McCormack hasn’t been able to perform physically due to an injury but she still does her best to push the team forward as they prepare for the big conference meet on February 14.

“They both have had different personalities and aspects and both have brought different viewpoints to this program,” McCormack said.

Making Sacrifices

In preparing for the big conference meet, the swimmers have a “dry” season in which they don’t partake in alcohol from the beginning of January to the end of February.

The dry season is a small part of a big commitment to the team. It’s common among many swim teams because drinking alcohol breaks the body down and the team is constantly swimming. It’s not just about binge drinking but what accompanies drinking: Staying out late, going to bed late and partying. These can unfortunately take a huge toll on the body.

Anna Battistello,senior GS swimmer, commits not only to the dry season but also agrees that it’s important to not drink alcohol throughout the season as well. She says Coach Thomas emphasizes not drinking throughout the entire season because it will benefit them as they try to reach their goals.

“We work so hard so many hours a week trying to get to this optimal level of fitness. One night of binge drinking can set you back three days of training,’” Battistello said.

Alcohol breaks down the muscles, and as swimmers are performing, they won’t get the recovery they need. The “dry” season keeps them on the right track as they cut their yardage and make the practices seem easier in order to maximize fast at their meet.

“It’s a great way to keep us focused,” McCormack said. “We signed on to be on the swim team and this is just something that comes with it. If that means giving up a month of a typical college lifestyle, then that’s what it takes.”

Unlike most sports, the swimmers also don’t shave their legs from October until the end of February for the conference meet.

“The hair on the legs creates drag, so it’s more for training,” Thomas said. “It’s a sacrifice we’re making and everyone is making them. That’s a ritual that’s very unique to swimming.”

The swim team isn’t your usual sports team. They make these specific sacrifices to become better not just individually but collectively. It’s those sacrifices that bring them together as a team and keep them motivated to perform well during practice and in their meets.

“This is one really dedicated group of girls,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult sport for sure.”

The Eagles will compete in The Coastal Collegiate Sports Association meet. The CCSA event begins on Feb. 15 in Athens, Ga.

Photo courtesy of Mick Miller.