Pioneer Ridge Middle School pool had all the sounds you’d come to expect at a home opener swimming and diving meet.
The starter. The splash. The chatter among swimmers.
The sights of the Sept. 10 meet between Chaska and Bloomington Kennedy, certainly showed something out of the ordinary.
For starters, the visiting team, the Eagles, occupied the spectator bleacher area, spread out every six feet.
Masks were on everyone, from the two officials to the coaches to every swimmer not currently in the pool. Masks remained on every swimmer until they approached the starting blocks. Upon departure from the pool, out of breath or not, they had to be returned to the face.
Chaska swimmers occupied lanes one through four, Bloomington Kennedy was in lanes five through eight. No swimmers were allowed around the pool to cheer on their teammates.
On relays, only one swimmer was allowed in the blocks. When a swimmer hit the water, the next scurried into position.
And the spectators. There were none. Only the lucky eight parents volunteering to hand time in the lanes. A live stream available for families to view at home.
“Since we never see teammates in school, I think it keeps the team positive to be here, in person,” said Chaska senior Payton Fogarty, who like all District 112 secondary students is beginning the 2020-21 school year in distance learning.
“I’m giddy to come to practice. My lane mate was gone the other day and I texted her to tell her I missed her so much. I just try and not take this time together for grant it. Virtual learning is really hard,” Chaska senior Emily Hed said.
“To not have anyone to talk to, coming here to the pool, it is really nice. But it’s also hard because a lot of the team bonding goes on in the locker room and we don’t have that time together anymore,” Fogarty said.
Deep conversation time is drastically reduced, they both agreed.
VIRTUAL OR IN-PERSON
The South Suburban Conference has gone virtual for swim meets this fall. Each team competes in 11 races in their own pool and the coaches compare times to figure out the scoring.
The Metro West Conference and Lake Conference are opting for in-person, two-team duals, with many precautions in place.
For Hed, virtual meets were used in summer swimming at WEST Express.
“When there’s a competitor next to me, I want to win. It brings out the competitiveness in me,” Hed said.
“Being able to see your opponent, if it’s a close race, having that to push you, is such an advantage,” Fogarty said.
Spring sports were canceled, and as summer progressed the likelihood of fall high school sports in Minnesota was up in the air.
“I thought after how summer (club season) went we had a chance. It was something that I didn’t bank on, but I was hopeful,” Hed said.
“(WEST Express swim coach Heidi Miler) was pretty confident we’d have something, whether it was virtual or in-person,” Fogarty said.
In August, the Minnesota State High School League approved girls swimming and diving for the fall, though invitationals or meets involving more than two teams are not allowed.
That means just five Metro West Conference events for Chaska and Chanhassen. Sections and the state meet are on hold for now, uncertain if any post-season event will take place.
“I always try my hardest in practice. I am always trying to improve my times, but knowing there might not be sections, I really am having a hard time pushing myself to be ready for the end of the season. I’m more using my last season as a chance to enjoy myself,” Fogarty said.
“I am thinking is this going to be my last meet. Are we going to have to shut down? Even last week I was shaving down, preparing myself as if that was going to be our last meet. I feel like I’m going to be in the same mindset all season,” Hed said.
WATCHING FROM AFAR
With spectators unable to attend swim meets, live stream options are available for all Chaska and Chanhassen home races. Additionally, the opening meet for the Hawks was broadcast at Olson Middle School, giving parents an opportunity to watch from afar.
Only eight lane timer volunteers are allowed at home meets. Coveted spots that ultimately were only offered to parents of the eight seniors.
“My parents are splitting it up. My sister is playing tennis and most weeks we are both in sports on Thursdays, so one will go there and the other will come to the pool,” Hed said. “There’s only three home meets, so one parent will only see me once, which is a bummer.”
“My parents had some friends over to watch it. A swim watch party,” Fogarty said.
“My house found a way to put it on the TV,” Hed said. “They had names and everything on the screen. It looked like the Olympics. The time when I hit the wall. It looked pretty cool.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Practices also look different. Each lane features four swimmers, two on each side. Usual years would have five or six swimmers on each end. A swimmer party in between sets.
“Being with the same girls each practice, I’ve really grown closer to those girls. We have our inside jokes, our little things together. It’s actually been fun,” Hed said.
In a 98-25 win over Bloomington Kennedy Sept. 10, Hed was the 50-yard freestyle event winner in 27.11 seconds with Fogarty edging a teammate in the 100-yard breaststroke race in 1:19.42 for first place.
Both swimmers were part of a victorious 200-yard medley relay along with senior Zoe Skoogman and Gretta Hansen in 2:03.95.
Remaining home meets for Chaska are Chanhassen on Sept. 22 and Benilde-St. Margaret on Oct. 13. The Storm’s home meets were Sept. 11 and 15 versus Benilde-St. Margaret and Robbinsdale Cooper with Bloomington Jefferson on Sept. 29.