Back in the pool
Swimmers, divers ‘thrilled to be together’
The beauty of advancing to a New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship event as an underclassman is the opportunity to go back the following year.
Southwestern’s Natalie Fosberg, Panama’s Izzi Bailey, Frewsburg/Falconer’s Madison Kramer and Fredonia’s Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer will not have that chance this fall.
COVID-19 has taken that from them.
But as three of the top senior girls swimmers and one of the top divers in the area, they’ll still be able to prove themselves against the best the area has to offer in the next couple of months.
Fall sports teams returned to their practice arenas this week, including swimmers who jumped back into the pools at their respective schools.
With volleyball postponed until March 1 after being labeled a higher-risk sport by the state Department of Health, swimming has the unique position of being the only indoor sport competing this season.
“Practice is a little more difficult. … We have to start at opposite ends of the pool and stay socially distant in the water,” Southwestern head coach Dan Thomas said Friday evening. “The hard part is the lack of deck space. I have 27 girls and it’s hard to fit them all in.”
While socially distancing can be fairly easy for the competitors from two schools going against each other, allowing spectators into the arena and holding invitational or late-season championships still poses problems in a world defined by coronavirus protocols.
“There’s a learning curve. We have cohorts of 10 in the pool starting in the shallow end, the middle and the deep end,” Fredonia head coach Joanne Lotter said. “We have a small pool deck so there will be no spectators. We’re trying to live stream competitions so people don’t miss out. Maybe more people can watch this way too.”
The Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association season will start Tuesday, Oct. 6 and run through Thursday, Nov. 5. There are nine teams, including Jamestown, split between two divisions. Meets will be held every Tuesday and Thursday. As of now, a CCAA Championship meet is up in the air and Section VI Championships will likely be held virtually — if they’re held at all.
Fosberg is back as a senior at Southwestern after finishing 13th in the 50-yard freestyle at the state meet a season ago. She was also 45th in the 100-yard backstroke as a junior.
“I’ve talked to them a lot about it,” Thomas said about the cancellation of the state meet. “As soon as I heard it, those three swimmers (Fosberg, Bailey and Kramer) were the ones that I felt worst for.”
With no chance to move up at a state meet during her final high school season in the pool, Fosberg will still look to improve upon her personal-best times against CCAA competition over the next few months.
“We’re striving to get some goal times that Natalie has,” Thomas said. “There are some things that she wants to achieve this season personally because there is no state meet to go to.”
The Trojans also return a strong core of younger swimmers, including juniors Teagan Shedd and Isabella Grijalva; sophomores Ashlyn Swan and Elise Coffin; and freshmen Sophie Kreinheder and Morgan Faulk, who can all use this fall to improve upon their times and hopefully get ready for championship competition during their later high school years.
“We have some really up-and-coming girls. All four of our divers are sophomores who are going to be a force in our league for the next couple of years,” Thomas said. “We have good, young kids and picked up a couple more as a result of no volleyball. … Athletes really transition into the pool very nicely.”
At Fredonia, Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer’s dream of a state 1-meter diving competition came to an end last fall with a seventh-place finish at the Section VI state qualifier. She’ll now join Amelia Harper as seniors on this year’s Hillbillies’ squad who will only get to swim for better times and pride this fall if there are no county or sectional championships.
“Our goals are a little bit different this year without championship meets,” Lotter said. “There is more of a personal feel.”
Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer’s younger sister, Elizabeth, advanced to the state meet last year as an eighth-grader and finished with a 19th-place finish of 402.65 points. She’ll have to wait another year to get another shot at states, but can use this season as preparation for that opportunity. Fredonia junior Victoria Spacciapolli finished 27th at the state meet in the 100-yard breaststroke last year as a sophomore and will be hungry to hopefully return next season if things are back to normal.
“The girls have really taken it in stride because they are happy to have any season at all,” Lotter said. “They are thrilled to be in the water together.”
Kramer finished 19th in the 100-yard backstroke and 52nd in the 100-yard butterfly last fall for the Bears. Bailey was 12th in the 50-yard freestyle and 13th in the 200-yard individual medley at last year’s Section VI state qualifier.
But for now, with the state meet canceled and sectional meet likely to take on a different form if it happens at all, swimmers are just happy to be back in the pool.
“This is a weird year with everything in their lives. There are new challenges and changes. They are rolling with it,” Lotter said. “Fredonia is all remote so they are on their computers all day. They are just so happy to get away from the computer and into the pool. They are doing whatever is asked of them to swim.”