Girls swimming seizes state championship

by Anna Kate Heller

Marist and Woodward could learn something from the Cats’ girls swim and dive team. Like clockwork, the team combined hard work, leadership, and confidence to dominate the state meet and win by a staggering 67 points.

“Once these kids realized they had actually made the state squad, and how big the stakes are at this level, they all stepped up in a big way,” said assistant coach Robert Cochran.

Most notably, the girls set new state records for the 200-freestyle, 200-medley relay and 400-freestyle relay. Senior captain Nicole Stafford swam in all three record-setting races and was crucial to the team’s win. Most importantly, her leadership and character is an inspiration to the younger swimmers as well as the coaches.

“I almost came to tears when I heard what Nicole Stafford did after the state meet,” said Pete Higgins, who has been the head coach since 1961. “She gave her gold medals to the four freshmen on the state team and challenged them to carry on the Westminster swimming tradition in the future. That’s what I call leadership.”

Seniors Lilly Nunnally and Erika Redding accompanied Stafford as swim captains this season. Nunnally won the B-final for the 200 IM and Redding was the anchor on the state record-setting 200-medley relay. Along with seniors Jamie Christy and Michelle Kuhlmann as well as senior dive captains Caroline Hufford and Gaffney Taylor, the girls created a team environment that was fun but also demonstrated the importance of practice and hard work.

“The seniors were tremendous leaders and really took the younger swimmers under their wings,” said 12-year assistant coach Jan Allen. “They made them feel important and special.”

Several senior CatFish are pursuing athletics on a collegiate level, bringing with them the lessons they learned from their experiences in high school. Christy will swim at the University of Southern California, Stafford at Stanford University, and Taylor will dive at the University of Tennessee.

“Swimming at Westminster has really helped me learn how to put the team first,” said Stafford.

Learning how to interact with teammates and rivals is crucial to athletic success and an element of teamwork the girls swim and dive team has perfected.

“We knew what we had to do as a team, so we didn’t worry about the other teams,” said junior Maddie Downs.”That enabled us to swim our best.”

Taylor, who placed second in diving, has learned to use competition to her advantage.

“Marist’s diver Andrea Demick was my biggest competition,” said Taylor. “We have always pushed each other to become better, and that is something I am very grateful for.”

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“I think when one swimmer wins a race, we all feel like we have won that race,” said Maxwell.

Swim coaches Allen, Cochran, and Higgins along with Richmond Green, Kevin Mylod and diving coach Cynthia Potter have similar philosophies that laid the foundation for the road to state.

“Practice does not make perfect,” said Higgins. “Practice of perfection will make perfect.”

Although the coaches, like most, are hard on the swimmers, they believe that building the swimmers up and teaching them to have a positive attitude is of utmost importance.

“Our coaches told us to be confident that we were going to destroy the competition,” said Maxwell. “They told us if we were scared of the swimmer beside us, we had already lost the race.”

In addition to skills in the water, the coaches have taught valuable lessons like how to handle pressure and work hard to improve in desperate times.

“I’ll never forget [Potter’s] well-known quote among the divers, ‘Trying doesn’t get it. Getting it gets it,’” said Taylor.

Although the team will be greatly hindered by the graduation of six seniors this year, the girls will leave behind a promising legacy for the team as it works toward winning its 22nd state championship next year.

“The seniors always reminded us before every meet that every swim counts, no matter if you think you’re slow or fast,” said sophomore Katie Christy. “You never know when you can pull out a ridiculous race and if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish much more than you think you ever could.”

The team was successful not only because of hard work, strong leadership, and experienced coaches, but also more simply because the girls loved spending time with each other.

“If you don’t enjoy something, how can you strive to be more successful?” said Christy. “There is no team that is as close as ours.”