There are a lot of strange aspects to the 2021 season for the Hopkinton High School swimming and diving team. The season is just beginning, but the calendar reads March. Meets are virtual, there are only 24 swimmers allowed in the pool at a time, and, when they are not in the water, they have to wear masks.
But the strangest part, coach Kristen Webber said, is the silence.
“It’s definitely different, the meet moves very quickly and we are fortunate that we can have a limited number of spectators,” Webber said. “There is no cheering, just clapping. It’s a quiet pool area, which is different, they have to adjust and motivate themselves on their own.”
The biggest adjustment, she said, is having such a low-key environment but trying to make it as competitive as possible.
Hopkinton is competing in the so-called “Fall 2” season, which is wedged between the modified winter and spring sports schedules being played during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hillers were unable to swim during the winter due to a lack of facilities. The health crisis meant they were unable to use the pool at Keefe Tech, so Hopkinton is practicing and competing at Milford this year (Milford already has wrapped up its season).
Hopkinton began the year with a meet against Waltham and Malden. Like all meets this year, it was virtual. While the Hillers swim and record their times in Milford, their opponents do the same at their facilities and the times then are compared to see who comes out on top.
Milford was able to host live swim meets during its season, but the Hillers’ league has decided to make all meets virtual despite the size of the MHS pool allowing for proper social distancing with two teams there at once.
Webber said her team is adjusting to the changes brought on by the pandemic. With 35 total swimmers and no more than two dozen allowed in the pool at once, the team has focused on staying together even though it has to practice in two groups.
Even though it is a strange year, Webber said several of her swimmers might be looking to continue in the sport at the collegiate level, so maintaining a high level of competition is important.
Senior captain Alyssa Fischer is someone who could earn points in a variety of events.
“She can kind of swim any race,” Webber said. “She is a distance swimmer, but she is versatile and she can do a lot of different events.”
Junior Tess Weatherhead is expected to be competitive in the diving events, the coach said.
On the boys’ side, Tyler Holbrow is another versatile athlete.
“He is mostly a butterfly swimmer but he is useful, he can move around to different events as well,” Webber said.
Junior Kevin Gu started branching out to the individual medley and the butterfly last year, something Webber expects will continue this season. Junior Tyler Fallon is another strong swimmer, and Webber praised all of her top athletes for the way they work during practices.
“Being a good practice swimmer is a big goal of ours,” she said. “Just making sure everyone can motivate each other during the practice when they are all very spread out, you don’t have the same team mentality. So the goal is to get everyone working their hardest in this different environment.”
Ramping up quickly is especially important this season. The Fall 2 campaign spans just six meets crammed into a little over a month, with the last one scheduled for April 12. Webber is hopeful the team will take advantage of the chance to suit up after a lack of pool time pushed the season back from the winter months.
“I am thankful we did this to give the kids something to do besides go to remote school and stay apart from each other,” she said. “It’s a short season, but I’m glad we were able to have it.”