BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Wearing “First Ever NLL Champions” T-shirts and mostly dry hair, the members of the Anthony Wayne girls swimming and diving team returned from practice on January 27 to take center court in the gymnasium, where they huddled around a trophy that will go into the case in the athletic complex.
“This is a very happy day for me,” said Jen (Kirby) Hildebrand, a 1996 graduate who was on the AW swim team in high school – and whose daughters, Kate and Colleen, are members of this year’s league championship team.
“In the ‘90s we had six kids – both boys and girls on the team,” Jen said. “Thanks to all these older girls recruiting friends, that’s what helped build the depth of the team.”
Amelie Blakely has been swimming since kindergarten and is known for her freestyle. Early in the school year, she and her veteran teammates decided it was time to bolster the team roster. The team grew from 15 to 23.
“We put up a sign and asked, ‘Have you ever thought about swimming?’ For some, this is their first year swimming. Others started in high school or junior high,” Amelie said. “Having more people makes it more fun. We have a ton of freshmen. Even though they’re new, they’re excited and it brings energy to the team.”
Samantha Spencer decided to come on the team as a senior this year. As a way to stay fit as she gets ready to row at West Virginia University this fall.
“All the girls are super nice and it helps me keep in shape to row,” she said, joking that when she started, she didn’t even know how to dive in the pool.
Coach Carolyn Strunk leads practices for five different teams, five to six days a week, in Bowling Green State University’s pool.
“Swimming is an individual sport, except relays,” Strunk said, noting that having so many students from all over Northwest Ohio practice together has lent itself to a lot of camaraderie. “Practices are a lot more fun and low stress because of this.”
Knowing each student’s strengths, Strunk put together a lineup for each of the events. The combined scores from all of those events, including divers Gillian Yoder and Holli Torok, gave Anthony Wayne the winning edge.
The 400-meter freestyle relay team also beat an NLL record – previously set by Perrysburg – during the league meet.
Allie Barasch, who was on the relay team with Amelie, Kate and Colleen, remembers looking up and realizing how close they were to beating that record.
“It gave me a rush of adrenaline to keep going,” she said. Allie is known for her freestyle and butterfly and will be swimming at Indiana State University next year.
At the end, Amelie looked up and saw the board flashing, indicating a win. Breaking the record and bringing home the first NLL championship is a great way to finish out her high school swimming career.
“This is our first year to put up a banner,” she said, motioning to the gymnasium where banners for NLL teams adorn the walls.
She is hoping that the win will encourage other students to consider joining.
“Swimming is one of the sports you don’t hear about, because neither practices nor meets are at school,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun. Anyone can join.”
The girls junior varsity team is headed to Canton on Saturday, February 4 to compete in the Ohio JV Championships, while the varsity girls will compete in sectionals in Fremont on Wednesday, February 8.
Those qualifying will move on to the district meet at BGSU on February 18, with their sights set on a run at the state meet on February 24.