Swim team launches into new season with preseason meet

Caroline Scott, Staff writer

Freshman Nicole Riopelle anxiously awaited her first mixed swim relay, unsure of how her group of two boys and two girls’ times would compare against six other teams during the preseason meet at the Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center on August 21. 

“Because of how everybody’s built, [the times] always split up,” Riopelle said. “I was very nervous at first. Once I realized that these are all my friends, I’ve been practicing with them, I got really excited. It was a new experience.”

The meet consisted of entirely relay events, which Riopelle’s mixed relay teammate junior Lance Stern said bonded the team.

“There were no individual events, which is very rare at any swimming meet,” Stern said. “It was just fun to be able to swim relays with our teammates, and that helped build team chemistry.”

According to Riopelle, the group events pushed her to swim faster.

“It made me want to do even better, because I wasn’t just racing for myself,” she said. “I was racing for all the people I’m swimming with and trying to do my best for them. I think they were all doing the same. There was a lot of teamwork going on.”

Another difference in the meet was the scoring. 

“It was more focused on just having fun and getting into the swing of things,” Riopelle said. “It just lightened up the mood a little.”

According to Riopelle, the change in protocols regarding COVID-19 also improved the atmosphere. The guidelines allowed swimmers to go without masks. 

“Last season, it was a little tense because we all had to wear masks and be very safe on COVID,” she said. “A lot of people were uncomfortable. Now that we have more things going on to protect us from COVID, such as vaccines, it’ll let us have a more fun year.”

To distance the teams, each had its own lane for warm-ups.

“[The coaches] are still spreading us out enough,” Stern said. “I feel like it’s okay, the way that they’re doing it.”

While the rules prohibited spectators, swimmers could wait on-deck between their events. 

“We always had people at the other end of the pool, encouraging each other and telling each other ‘good luck,’” Riopelle said. “We did really well cheering each other on.”

Stern said the motivation elevated the team. 

“I think the team did well on a lot of events, but the big thing that stood out about the team this weekend was we were cheering for all our teammates this weekend, and I think that supporting your team is possibly bigger than our team performance in the actual meet.”

According to Stern, the team will get faster as veterans teach those who recently joined.

“There’s a bunch of younger swimmers on our team this year, and some of us more experienced swimmers need technique work,” Stern said. “[The returning swimmers] make some of those mistakes also. We just need to fix the little things, improve the technique, and those are all things that will help us drop seconds in the pool. [Helping new teammates] helps us see what can we do to get better as a person and as a swimmer.”