Boys swim and dive team faces COVID-19

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Photo submitted by Abby Thibodeau

The girls swim and dive team practices during their 2020 season right before their sectional meets. This is similar to how the boys swim and dive team will look once their season is underway on Nov 30.

“It’ll be unfortunate, but we can work through it,” Brian Luke, Stillwater boys and girls swim and dive head coach explained as COVID-19 creates a unique challenge for students and coaches this year. With the girls swim and dive season officially over, the focus now transitions to the boys swim and dive team, and how they will operate in the upcoming season.

According to a decision made by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) on Aug. 26, “All aspects of athletics including meetings, practices, competitions, transportation and facility usage must align with the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Education plan for return to learning, must follow the requirements from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Guidance on Youth Sports, and must include the required actions identified in the Governor’s Executive Orders.”

“Currently, the boys season was shortened slightly from what it used to be but not as much as the girls,” Luke explained. “We scheduled our normal conference meets and we scheduled two crossover meets with the conferences. We’re going to swim Simley and Tartan as crossover meets. We’ll have nine conference meets and two crossover meets. We are gonna have no invitationals because no pool will accommodate a big number of people due to COVID limitations.” 

With the season beginning on Nov. 30, the scheduling and organization is subject to change, but with this plan based off of a successful girls season, the schedule will likely hold true.

Research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Jul. 15, indicates there is no evidence COVID-19 can spread to humans through the use of pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. By following safe swimming practices while social distancing and using everyday preventive actions, the teams will be at low risk for COVID-19.

“We had to split the team in half because you can only have so many kids at one time, and we had to run two different practices,” Luke said about COVID-19 affecting girls swim and dive practices.

There were no spectators. One team would be where the spectators used to be, and the other team would be down on the deck so the teams are quite separated. Within your own team you make sure you’re wearing masks. They can take them off when they swim, but otherwise they are supposed to wear masks and try to stay as separated as possible. It seemed to work for the girls quite well,” Luke added with regards to changes in meets and competitions.

According to the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing, “It is safest to avoid crowded places and gatherings where it may be difficult to stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not from your household. If you are in a crowded space, try to keep 6 feet of space between yourself and others at all times, and wear a mask.”

We had to wear masks in between dives, and when we were cheering up in the stands for the swimmers we had to be spaced out. It affected a lot of the bonding usually going on, but we made the best with what we had,” junior Maddy Puhrmann said.

We are the defending conference and section champions for a few years in a row, I think going into the season, we’re going to try to do it again. To be the conference champions and section champions.”

— Brian Luke

Luke has been the Stillwater boys and girls swim and dive head coach for 46 years and is a retired Oakland Middle School science teacher. Luke joined the Minnesota High School Coaches Hall of Fame Sept. 3, 2019 and has led the girls swim and dive team to 177 consecutive dual meet wins. Their last loss in a dual meet dates back to 2003, a Minnesota state record.

While talking about possible stress due to COVID-19 this season, Luke explained he has by no means dealt with everything, and there is constantly new issues or events coming up and you have to adapt to them. 

Certain club swim teams have been operating all year even through COVID-19. According to TeamUnify.com, MAKO is an organized and family friendly year-round USA competitive swim team that creates enthusiasm and a magnetism towards swimming.”

You’re swimming less people in a lane and you swim in a way where you’re not within six feet of each other. You can’t use the locker rooms on your way out, therefore everything’s a one way system,” junior Hugh Hanlon explained, a swimmer in the MAKO Aquatics Club, about ways his club prevents the spread of COVID-19.

According to GoPonies.org, the Stillwater boys swim and dive team will have their first dual meet of the season on Dec. 10, against Simley. This meet will be a conference crossover meet, meaning the team is going outside of their conference. 

“We are the defending conference and section champions for a few years in a row, I think going into the season, we’re going to try to do it again. To be the conference champions and section champions,” Luke said with regards to his hopes and goals for the upcoming season.

This upcoming meet against Simley will be the first of 11 different meets currently scheduled for the Boys Swim and Dive 2020-2021 season.

“We just explained to the kids what was going on and the reason it had to be done,” Luke said when explaining the impacts of COVID-19 on the season. “They’re resilient, they can figure it out. A few kids can feel stressed, but they’re used to it. We can adapt to this situation.”