Greenhills/FGR/Whitmore Lake Swim Season Wrap-up
On March 12, 2020, Eileen Noble, head coach of the joint Greenhills/Father Gabriel Richard/Whitmore Lake swim team, picked up a rental car and headed towards Greenhills to pick up her swimmers. For the first time, some of her athletes had qualified for the state swim meet and the team was sending participants in two individual events and a relay. The meet was more than two hours away in Holland, so Noble planned to drive her team there the day before to allow them to settle in, and hopefully find time for a workout.
But just after picking up the rental car, Noble got an email from Meg Seng, Greenhills’ Athletic Director. With COVID cases rising, the MHSAA had canceled the state meet.
“It was the most heartbreaking thing ever,” Noble said.
It was heartbreaking, all right — but the disappointment of losing the state meet last year only added to Noble’s satisfaction this season, when the team rebounded to become even better. Last season, the team qualified for three events at the state meet. This season, the MHSAA constricted the time standard for the state meet, lowering the amount of qualifiers to allow for a more distanced event. Noble called it “a significantly smaller number of people who qualified;” an event that ordinarily had 50 qualifiers might now have fewer than 25. But Noble’s team wasn’t deterred. A year after qualifying for three events at the ordinary state meet, at this season’s sharply restricted one, the team qualified for four.
“We had four qualifiers for state meets in what was one of the hardest years to qualify for state meets,” Noble said. “It was such a relief, and such a heartwarming moment.”
From the beginning, this season was different. The team started its virtual workouts in November: they would get together on zoom meetings and do conditioning drills. They did body weight workouts, stretching, and, Noble emphasized, lots and lots of squats. But they still couldn’t come together in person. “Which sucked,” Noble said, “but at least we got people interacting with each other.”
The team captains were especially important to keeping the team together. The captains — Kenny Lashaway from Father Gabriel Richard, Lindsay Francis from Whitmore Lake, and Michael Keegan from Greenhills — didn’t just run workouts: they also kept the team running smoothly and morale high. They organized practices, but they also put together three or four Zoom game nights. The team had a lot of new swimmers, but even most of the rookies already knew at least one veteran team member. It was already a close group, a group that “adapted very well to the changes we had to make,” Noble said. Finally, in January, the MHSAA allowed in-person practices to begin, and the team came back together for the first time since the previous March.
Noble remembers the moment when the team finally seemed to cast off the doldrums of COVID once and for all. It was the Catholic League meet — essentially the team’s league championship — and two of the team’s swimmers put on the performances of their lives. James Kluge, a sophomore at Greenhills, cut one and a half seconds off his time in the 100-meter butterfly. Leo Applegate, also a Greenhills sophomore, cut seven seconds off his 500 meter freestyle time, setting a career best under five minutes in what Noble called “a huge accomplishment.”
“It was probably the best race I’ve ever seen him do,” she said. “The team was just thriving in that moment.”
The season culminated, of course, with the state meet. This was Noble’s third season coaching, but because COVID eliminated the 2020 meet, 2021 was actually her first time bringing swimmers to the state final. She brought four athletes: three swimmers and a diver. And sure enough, in the pared-down, distanced version of the state meet, two Greenhills students again set personal bests: Kluge in the 100 meter butterfly and junior Caeden Couch in the 200 meter individual medley, with Kluge shaving almost two-tenths of a second off the previous personal best he’d just set at the Catholic League championship.
“It was phenomenal,” Noble said.
She’s proud, of course, when she looks back at the season and sees what the team managed to accomplish, despite a modified schedule and COVID restrictions in place. She’s also excited, because this year’s team was a young team: many of her best swimmers will be back next season, and her youngest will have another year of growth and development under their belts.
In addition to qualifying for this year’s state meet in four events, a number of school records were set during the 2020-2021 season by the following athletes:
- Leo Applegate – 500m Freestyle
- Maya Comer – 100m Butterfly, 100m Breaststroke, 200m Individual Medley
- Caeden Couch – 100m Freestyle, 200m Freestyle, 200m Individual Medley, Diving (6)
- James Kluge – 100m Fly
- Applegate, Kluge, Rehman, Couch – 400m Freestyle Relay
More than anything, Noble is happy. Happy that she could help her swimmers set personal bests, but also just happy that the season went ahead as planned, and the team could finally come back together after almost 10 months apart.
“We had a lot of being able to get together and spend time together as a team,” she said, “which stood out simply because we weren’t sure if that was going to be able to happen.”
By James Schapiro, Greenhills School Staff Writer