The New Wave of McDowell Swimming

Watching an athlete swim up to 20 laps in a sauna-like natatorium might not being as interesting as watching a physical and fierce football, basketball or soccer game, but senior Chris Zhou swims a 50 meter freestyle in 22.55 seconds. That makes him the fastest Trojan athlete, not on the track nor scoring a touchdown, but in the pool holding his breath during the 50 meter sprint.
Swimming is an extensive all-over body workout, as nearly all of the athlete’s muscles are used during the exercise. It builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Maybe that’s why this year’s 2022 boys swim team has 26 athletes on the team, some of which are multisport athletes. That might not be as big of a roster as an 80-man football roster, but with a freshman class of 13 male swimmers this year, it will be the largest boys swim roster in over four years. Only 16 athletes were rostered in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, and 19 in 2021-2022.
Athletes like sophomore Ty Mak see the benefits of swimming because of the “physicality” of the sport. “Swimming is great exercise, but can be mentally draining,” he said.
Although it is a sport that is mostly based on individual performance, the draw for the swimmers is the team.
“It benefits me by helping me stay in shape and meeting new people,” said senior Donovan Lavery. “I swim to see my friends and improve myself as an athlete.”
The McDowell Aquatics program has been transitioning over the last three years as head swimming coach Mike Esper (class of ‘98) took over the swimming team as well as the head coach of boys and girls water polo this year.
He began with the team 18 years ago as an assistant, and a change in coaching obviously affects how a team runs, which could explain a dip in the numbers three years ago, but now Esper’s team appears to be on an upswing going into this season.
Millcreek has long operated a strong aquatics program between a USA swim club called MIST, that Esper runs with the help of Nikki Pierce. MIST has two main seasons, fall/winter which runs from September through April, and spring/summer which runs from May through July.
I think the reason there are so many people is because MIST was doing really well in previous years,” Lavery said.
The different groups MIST has include the elite group, challenge group, technique group, and the development group, which all practice at McDowell after high school season practices end.
Between the Swim Team, MIST and the Aquatics curriculum at McDowell High School students have many opportunities to test out the waters. Aquatics class is required for all freshmen that go through McDowell.
“We probably recommend two to three students a block to try either the swim team/water polo/diving team,” Rebecca Kiem, McDowell aquatics teacher said. “I think Coach Esper and the feeder programs around this area do a good job filling the rosters.”
After 2020’s pandemic hit, sports were delayed, not played, or altered in some type of way, whether that be canceling games or the whole season, having to wear masks while playing, or only allowing so many people inside for indoor sports activities.
For most people, sports are not only about the benefits of the sport itself, but for the entertainment and enjoyment that friends bring to the sport. When the canceling of enjoyable trips for tournaments, social distancing, and masks came in place on 2020 and 2021, most of the fun outside actually competing left the sport.
Now that restrictions are a thing of the past, Mak believes swimming’s “popularity is raising more than it ever had.”
One main reason could be to stay in shape for another sport in the off-season. Almost all the swim team is multi-sport athletes. Not only is it an adequate way to stay in shape during off season but there are a great deal of health benefits that come with swimming. It keeps your heart rate up, takes some of the impact stress off your body, tones muscles and builds strength, and even can provide good low-impact therapy for some injuries and conditions that are obtained.
McDowell fans looking to cheer on the boys and the girls in the pool can mark their calendars for Thurs., Jan. 12 when the swimming team takes on Warren at home at 6:00 p.m. with the first official meet of the season.