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The City Journals

Sink or swim? Hillcrest swimmers hope season remains afloat this year

Dec 14, 2020 12:19PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest junior Joshua Arevalo is a favorite in the breaststroke and hopeful to place at state this season. (Ryan Thierbach/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In early November, Hillcrest High junior Zoe Welch was quarantined when her mother contracted COVID-19. The swim captain was missing the water and had already missed the first meet of the season.

“I love the water,” she said. “I focus on my technique and that has really helped me improve. Swimming makes me more energetic and happier.”

What she—and many didn’t know—was that she wouldn’t be the only one restricted to dry land. A Nov. 8 COVID-19 health mandate from Gov. Gary Herbert stated no extracurricular high school activities for two weeks, which included every high school sport that wasn’t in a championship run. It was ordered through Nov. 23.

Hillcrest head coach Ryan Thierbach wasn’t sure about the outlook of the season.

“I hope that it does not have a huge impact on our season, but honestly I am afraid that it might,” he said. “By putting the swim season on hold for two weeks, that is two weeks that the majority of my swimmers are out of the water. They will have lost most of what they have gained in the preseason. This is at least two meets that all of the athletes are going to be out. It could be three. I sent out an email to all of my athletes about swim meets and all practices being canceled for the next two weeks. I pleaded with my athletes to follow the governor’s mandates and to do everything in their power to get us back in the water as quickly as possible. ”

Thierbach, who brought back former head coach Tom Huddlestone to help with the season, said he hopes to reschedule those meets (versus Jordan, versus Mountain Ridge and possible, versus Highland) in December.

However, swim meets, too, have been tricky as Salt Lake County is only allowing 50 people total in the pool area, Thierbach said. Between officials—starter and timers—coaches, and swimmers for just two teams, that number exceeds the maximum number. So, 11 of the 13 Hillcrest meets were scheduled at non-county facilities.

“We looked at swimming boys or girls or varsity and JV separately, but that gets to be kind of a nightmare. They all swim together, so what happens with those other kids and how many days are they unable to practice if we do it that way,” he said.

Like other sports, Hillcrest swimmers undergo temperature and health symptom checks as well as wear masks on the bus to and from meets and practice at Gene Fullmer Recreation Center and on deck. They’re socially distanced whenever they aren’t in the water and assigned seats on the bus.

“It’s a very important aspect, the social part with team dinners and banquet, but we’re a close knit bunch and we’re trying to be able to swim,” he said. “Swimming actually is one of the safest sports since chlorine kills COVID, but we do have some parents who are fearful about their kids getting it.”

Even in the water, they’ve divided the team with boys in three lanes and girls, under new coach Ari Tavo, in the other three lanes, which does help with contract tracing, he said. Workouts also have been changed by reducing time between sets on the wall, meaning, less chance swimmers are near each other without masks on the wall.

After graduating quite a few swimmers last year, and knowing some swimmers are sitting out because of the pandemic, Thierbach was pleased with the Nov. 5 meet against Hunter High.

“Our first meet went well with some good swims put in,” he said. “On the boys’ side junior Jack Nielson had some outstanding swims with best times in his two individual events and best times in his two relay events. Another junior, Joshua Arevalo, also put in some good swims winning the 200-yard IM (individual medley, consisting of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle) and the 100-yard breaststroke and had a solid breaststroke leg on the winning 200 medley relay. On the girls’ side, Jenna Riddle had an impressive 50-yard freestyle.”

He also noted both newcomers freshman Wallace McCarthy and junior Ananya Iyengar had some impressive swims. 

Thierbach expects Arevalo to place in the top eight in state in the 100 breaststroke, hoping he breaks 1:00, and senior Ian Pfeil, in his second season, should be able to swim 50 free around 23 seconds.

Junior Lucus Bolster should be another state qualifier, after just missing state last year in 100 fly. State is scheduled for Feb. 19-20, with region on Feb. 5.

“He’s decent in all strokes, but we’ll likely have him swim 100 fly, 50 free and 200 IM,” he said.

Bolster and Arevalo were part of the school record team last year in the 200 medley, along with Carter Neerings and Kyle Snowder, who both graduated after having successful senior years with school records and at the state meet.

Last year, the boys finished ninth at state, but now the team only consists of 12 members. The girls also competed at state, but they didn’t place in the top 10.

“The girls team is bigger this year, but they are very young, raw,” he said, noting that that 16-member team also graduated some seniors and will have holes to fill.

In addition to Riddle, who is “swimming great, and should do well as she keeps up with her dedication,” he expects junior Emma West, who “has a lot of potential,” to help Welch, “an extremely hard worker,” lead the team. Iyengar, freshman Oakley Young and senior Anna Day are expected to bring strong swims to the team.

Welch’s stroke is fly.

“I love butterfly; it’s a challenging stroke, and I like to challenge myself,” said the 100-flyer, who hopes her 200 medley relay will qualify for state.

Understanding the pandemic, she’s OK if spectators aren’t allowed to watch poolside as long as the swim season continues this year.

“I’m huge fan of live feed,” she said. “My family members at home or far away can watch me swim and we can always go back and learn from it to improve.”