Senior and team captain Layla Auter pushed open the black steel gates of the Fee Avenue pool, feeling the full weight of what it meant to be a senior. The state meet she and eight other girls were preparing for at the Sailfish Aquatic Center in Stuart on Sunday will be her last with the team she trained alongside since seventh grade.
“It’s bittersweet,” Auter said. “It’s a period of reflection, just kind of looking back at how far I’ve come and how far the team’s come since I first joined. Walking through the gates [Wednesday] morning was a little sad, just thinking about the first time I walked through those gates as a seventh-grader, not really knowing anybody on the team or how to swim competitively.”
She said she found a family in the team, and it is stronger for its sense of togetherness.
“Even though there’s not as many of us going this year as there normally would be … you always feel super-supported, as if you have all fifty swimmers there with you,” she said. “We’re all very close, always looking out for each other. I think it’s pretty special.”
Eighth-grader Nicole R., who will compete with Auter in the 200 free relay, agreed that the bond the swimmers have is one of their greatest advantages over other teams, along with a strong mindset going into each race.
“I think we’re a little closer as a team,” Nicole said. “We’re more mentally prepared because usually all of these teams see West Shore, and they’re like ‘Oh, they’re not good.’ They really don’t care because they think, ‘They’re an academics school, they’re not gonna beat us.’ And we can just get in their heads, like, ‘Oh, no, we’re gonna beat you, don’t worry about that.’”
According to Nicole, confidence is crucial.
“If we’re behind the blocks and we’re all nervous, we’re not gonna do as well as we would if we go up there knowing we’re gonna kill,” she said.
The team also prepared for technical aspects of the race.
“We’ve been practicing relay starts and lots of our turns,” Auter said. “For me, at least, [I’m] nervous about my starts, even though I feel very confident in the power and everything, just making sure that our relay starts are not going early because we could get disqualified for that … that’s the only thing keeping us from going to finals.”
Auter said watching the techniques of other teams intrigues her.
“You definitely see a lot of really technical kids who know what they’re doing,” she said. “Lots of very fast swimmers, and it’s very cool to see.”
She and Nicole said they enjoy the state meet’s environment and their teammates’ company.
“The best part is just getting to hang out with your team,” she said. “It’s really fun to have the experience of going there and just like knowing, ‘Hey, we made it. This is states.’”
Auter said she likes traveling as a group.
“I love spending time with the team,” Auter said. “We don’t get a lot of team trips. This is really like the one team trip we have. It’s always really fun.”
Auter expressed pride in the team’s success and anticipation for the upcoming race.
“I’m excited to see how we end out the season, how I end out my six years swimming for West Shore, my last event I’ll ever swim for them,” she said. “I’m super-duper proud of the team this season, especially ending it with regionals and going out with a bang, getting runners-up again … I feel like at every meet, the team always surpasses my expectations, and I have pretty high ones. If there was any way to end my senior season, it was definitely this way.”
By Caroline Scott