After a difficult and challenging season, the Ashland University swim and dive team is gearing up to make one final push at the GLIAC conference meet in Holland, Mich. this upcoming week.
This year’s GLIAC meet is going to look a lot different than it has in previous years.
“The layout of the meet is bizarre,” head coach Kyle Walthall said. “We’re doing something that we’ve never done before. I’m looking forward to it, I like to try new things. It will be an interesting meet.”
As usual, the meet will span over a four-day period, from Tuesday to Saturday. However, this year, the men and women will be separated for the preliminary rounds.
The men swimming early in the morning, and the women swimming later in the day. The top placers from the preliminary rounds from both sides swim again later that night in a final round.
Typically, the Eagles’ formula for success at GLIAC is simple. However, it has had to be completely reworked for such an abnormal year.
“Usually, preparation for our conference meet starts the second our conference meet ends the previous year.” Walthall said. “But a lot of that went out the window this year. Our prep for the GLIAC meet this year has restarted about five or six times. But right now, I just want us to go out there and have some fun. Regardless of how it turns out, I’ve been excited for it.”
This season has been particularly tough for the Eagles due to the coronavirus pandemic. In order to work around COVID-19 guidelines, serious changes to the practices had to be made.
Members of the team have had to practice separately in different “pods.” There must only be one swimmer on each side of the lane. Masks must be worn at all times when out of the water. It is a far cry from the way practices operated last year.
“The biggest challenge for me while swimming in a pandemic has been not being able to train and see my fellow teammates,” said junior Morgan Gardner. “I am all about having a good team atmosphere and being there for them. But in the end, I feel like we are closer than we have ever been before.”
The pandemic and GLIAC guidelines have also prevented the team from competing in meets during the fall semester, they have only been able to compete in three the entire season.
“The lack of swim meets this year has been strange,” Gardner said. “But for me personally, it hasn’t affected how I swim at practice. I always try to work my hardest everyday no matter if there is a meet over the weekend or not.”
Despite the circumstances, many swimmers have remained positive about this abnormal season.
“We’re in tough times,” said freshman Josh Hagan. “But I don’t want to look back on this year and have any regrets, because then you are just living the tough times twice. I want to go into better times knowing I did everything I could and made the most of a hard year.”
Many members of the team have chosen to opt out of this season due to covid-19 related issues. This has particularly affected the men’s team – who are down to just five swimmers and a diver for this season.
“In a way, there’s been a little bit of a negative result to it. We don’t really have a full boys’ team,” Hagan said. “But in another way, with it just being the six of us, we are able to bond between each other, and I feel a lot closer to these five guys than I did last semester.”
While the season has been tough, Gardner, Hagan, and others are excited to close out the season as strong as possible. “I’m very hungry to compete.” Hagan said. “It’s been a whole year since I’ve tapered for a meet like this. I am ready to go.”