Westminster CatFish bring home fourth state championship in a row


Photo credit Riley

This winter, the 2021 Westminster swimming and diving team successfully captured another GHSA state title. This is the team’s fourth state championship in a row and their 51st combined state championship at Westminster, extending a legacy of excellence for the program. Individual successes and record-setting performances helped lift the team to victory and made this meet even more memorable for the swimmers involved.

“This first relay where we broke the state record for the relay was probably my favorite race because of how intense and exciting it was for me and my relay team of Sadie Clayton, Katie Christopherson, and Annie Jardina,” said junior Gigi Johnson. “The moment that we looked up at the board and saw that all of our hard work had paid off this season was an incredibly rewarding feeling.”

That girls relay team shattered the previous state record in the 200-medley relay with their time of  1:40.65. This type of success did not come from nowhere though, as the Westminster swimmers have been diligent in their practices throughout the year. From the very start of the season in October, the Westminster swimming and diving team was incredibly motivated to earn their fourth state championship in a row.

“In terms of competition, we had a lot of depth this year,” said senior captain Virginia Hatcher. “It was really fun to watch everyone compete in their events and see the returning swimmers bring a lot to the table this year. We had several underclassmen really step up to the plate, too, which really pumped me up.”

Capturing this year’s championship was complicated by COVID-related setbacks. The team had to persevere in the face of new regulations and barriers, such as having fewer dual meets and opportunities to race. Thankfully, the athletics community, including the Westminster COVID support team, Coach Sharon Loughran, and the parents, worked tirelessly to ensure the season’s success and the safety of the athletes. 

“Every season, I adapt my coaching strategy to make the total experience for all our members better,” said Loughran. “This season, my focus was to again improve the experience, train for a different state format, get early qualifications for the state meet, and keep everyone safe. The amazing coaching staff, the tireless work from the athletic department and the COVID support team, the resiliency of the team leaders, and the disciplined effort by our members propelled us to one of the best seasons ever. The parent’s endless support was instrumental in our success as well. It truly took a village.”

Indeed, senior leadership was key to the CatFish success. The captains this season consisted of seniors Ashwin Pillai, Zac Walpole, Virginia Hatcher, Samantha Bertschi, Lucie Ide, and Amy Zhao. Their leadership was built upon a sense of community and closeness shared by both the small senior class and the team as a whole.

“This year was unique in that since we don’t have that many seniors on the swim and dive team, all the seniors were able to be captains,” said Walpole. “It was really cool to be able to share that role with my friends and to see all of us lead together.”

With COVID-19 and a global pandemic raging on during this year’s season, the senior captains handled their leadership role admirably. From the early morning practices to the late nights out eating pizza with the team, the Westminster Swimming and Diving team is rooted in tradition and camaraderie. With social distancing being a priority for the team, the CatFish were still able to successfully and creatively carry out team bonding activities like zip-lining, doing the ropes course, and making s’mores at the Westminster summer camp.

The CatFish faced a particularly difficult COVID-related change at the state meet. In order to limit the number of people attending the state meet, the boys and girls teams were separated from each other. The girls swam earlier in the day, while the boys swam at night. This was certainly a drastic change for the Westminster CatFish since being together as a whole team is a highlight and tradition of the state meet. They were unable to show team spirit in their typical way by crowding around the edge of the pool and cheering their teammates on during events.

“My favorite part about swimming is being a cheerleader for my fellow teammates, so it was disappointing to not be able to do that,” said Ide. “We always make sure we’re standing right at the edge of the pool to cheer each other on so that if you’re in the water, you can see and hear the people cheering for you. We definitely make sure to scream as loud as we can, and we know if it’s working when our voices are lost by the end of it all.”

The Catfish who did not participate in the state meet made do with the circumstances and found a way to cheer on their teammates by streaming the meet online instead. Although the team was not fully together in person, their support for one another highlighted the team’s strong chemistry and their belief that swimming and diving is a group effort, not just an individual sport. 

“It was sad that the girls and guys swim and dive teams weren’t able to be together since it’s so cool to be able to share that experience together, but we are fortunate that we live in a time where streaming live videos online exist so I could have the opportunity to watch my friends crush it in the state meet,” said freshman Ellie McCollum.

Despite the unusual conditions of this season, the team’s bond is something that will forever be cherished by its members. 

“This was my last year of swimming ever, and I’ve been swimming since I was four years old, so I will miss everything about being on the team,” said Hatcher. 

Even though the seniors may have swum their last meet for the Wildcats, they will forever be part of the Westminster Swimming & Diving team. Many past alumni have found ways to stay involved, from coming back to practice with the team in winter to hosting Zoom calls to stream the meets. Some seniors will even have the opportunity to swim at the next level, representing the Westminster team’s spirit and accomplishments on the collegiate circuit. Bertschi and Zhao look forward to continuing swimming at the University of Chicago and Williams College, respectively. 

Although the team will certainly be losing talent to graduation, the abundance of elite junior swimmers from Gigi Johnson to Miles Clayton will allow the CatFish to smoothly transfer leadership and compete for their fifth straight state championship.

“I look forward to being part of such a respectable program next year, and I can’t wait to step up to be a leader on the team, as it will be my senior year,” said junior swimmer Mira Srinivasa. 

The end of the 2021 season marks the beginning of the offseason for the CatFish. To many, this means training even harder, going to the weight room an extra day a week, and getting in the pool as often as possible. Even with another state championship under their belt, the team remains hungry for more.