Clippers’ swimmers make most out of virtual season

Clippers’ swimmers make most out of virtual season

Cumberland senior Joe Beauvais gives it his all as he competes in the 100-yard butterfly and posts a time of 1:03.22 during last Thursday’s virtual meet at the Bruce Calvert Aquatic Center. The boys’ team wrapped up their Rossi Division schedule on Tuesday afternoon opposite Bishop Hendricken and Barrington, and the girls concluded their regular season opposite Bay View Academy and Barrington. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Postseason remains a question mark as dual-meet schedule comes to a close

CUMBERLAND – When it comes to strange seasons, the Cumberland High boys’ and girls’ swim teams experienced quite an unusual one two seasons ago.

Because their pool on campus, the Bruce Calvert Aquatic Center, was closed for renovations, the Clippers spent that winter working out and hosting their dual meets at the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Rhode Island’s pool, which had served as the program’s home during the early 1970s.

But while going “back to the future” was somewhat odd, it pales in comparison to the highly abnormal season that the Clippers have experienced these past couple of months.

And their teams aren’t alone. While every high school sport has had to create its share of modifications in order to compete, no sport may have had to make more changes than swimming.

For example, instead of facing another opponent for a dual meet, teams are competing by themselves in virtual meets in their home pools, and in front of no fans, but only two officials and two timekeepers.

Yes, masks must be worn on the deck, and no, they aren’t required while competing in the water.

As for the results of those meets? Coaches, who can choose to compete on any day during the week, are responsible for submitting their times to their league’s officials so they can be matched up with their scheduled opponents and eventually determine who won, lost, or tied.

While some squads in the state have received their results, Cumberland head coach Rod McGarry admitted during his teams’ virtual meet last Thursday afternoon opposite La Salle and Portsmouth that he had yet to find out how his Clippers fared during their first two weeks of the season against Lincoln, North Kingstown, Prout, East Greenwich, the Lincoln School, and Moses Brown.

“And not having another team here eliminates the ability to strategize during the meet or plan for the meet like we normally would,” he admitted. “We just put the best lineup together that we think is comprehensive top-to-bottom and covers every event when we’re undermanned in those events.”

And as for the postseason? With time ticking away at the winter season, it’s still unclear if, when, or how there will be divisional meets, which have traditionally been scheduled on the third weekend of this month, or a state championship meet.

This season and its many obstacles and challenges have been a lot to digest for McGarry and his program, which totals 44 swimmers, but it hasn’t wiped out anyone’s joy or enthusiasm.

“As a matter of fact, the enthusiasm is higher than it’s ever been on deck,” he admitted. “The kids work hard when they’re here, which is amazing considering they’re swimming against ghosts and phantoms in other lanes, and I’m very proud of them for that. They’ve been great at adapting and adjusting to what we’ve had to do, and as a result, we’ve have a lot of fun.”

“It’s definitely been upsetting for all of us, especially the seniors, losing out on a lot of fun traditions, but it’s still been a pretty good season,” added Ally Stanfa, one of the girls’ team’s senior captains. “We’re all doing things to make it the usual fun season, but just in different ways. The captains started virtual contests for everyone and we’re giving out gift cards.”

“Obviously it stinks because we’re not as close with everyone on the team,” Stanfa continued. “Usually we’re all much more bonded at this point, with pasta parties and things like that, but we’re still becoming great friends and we’re still having fun.”

The Clippers wrapped up their virtual season on Tuesday by “competing” against Barrington, Bishop Hendricken for a boys-only meet, and Bay View Academy for a girls-only event, “and that will be the first meet of the year where we will have the entire boys’ team and girls’ team together for one meet,” said McGarry. “Knock on wood, not one of our swimmers has tested positive for COVID. The absences that we’ve had have been due to contract tracing.”

Since their preseason workouts began last month, the Clippers have not had their full team together either to practice. After all, it would be tough to space out 40-plus swimmers in an area as small as the Clippers’ pool.

“We have so many people that we’re running double practices,” admitted McGarry. “There a screening form I have to do for every kid, and I have to check their temperature when they come in. We’ll practice for an hour, and then we have to quickly get them out before we can get the next group in here for another hour.”

And during workouts, “we’ll have the kids swim in pods,” added McGarry, who has made sure that swimmers who swim different strokes are included in each one. “The original school of thought was that if one swimmer ended up testing positive (for COVID-19), then the whole team would be dead in the water. But with pods, if one kid in that pod happens to test positive, then we just lose that pod.”

As for the Clippers’ meets and the uncertainty of where they stand in the Rossi Division standings and against other swimmers, not only does “the logistical part of it make calculating scores and standings incredibly difficult,” noted McGarry, but some of the times that his swimmers may have clocked may not be a true indication of where they stand among the state’s top performers.

“One of our best swimmers, (junior) Chelsie Friedland, had a great time in the 200 free,” added McGarry. “But I know full well that if she was swimming against a girl who was presumably faster than her, Chelsie’s time would have probably dropped by two seconds. It’s adrenaline and intensity that brings out those times.”

Friedland and Stanfa are two of the top swimmers back from last year’s girls’ team that also includes talented junior Catherine Shen, and on the boys’ team, which placed second at last season’s Division I championship meet, seniors juniors Tom Brennan, Jack Doherty, Evan Goddard, and Joe Beauvais, junior Nick Zerva, and sophomore William Brennan are back after performing well at last year’s D-I and state meets.

Whether or not that group, as well as a few promising youngsters, get another chance to perform on the division’s or state’s big stage still remains to be seen. But make no mistake about it, this season has been a very good one for the Clippers.

“I think the league had the right idea in trying to give the kids an opportunity to compete and have a season, despite the fact that it’s not a typical season,” noted McGarry. “At the end of the day, we can say that we had meets, we had times, and our times were posted against other schools, despite the fact that they’re probably not a real reflection of the competitive nature of the team.”

“And I’m glad that we’ve had a season,” he continued. “I’ve had a lot of support from our athletic director, Eric Blanchard, who has done everything in his power to make sure that we’ve had what we need to have a season, and the camaraderie and the leadership of our seniors have been as good, if not better, than any year that we’ve ever had.”

Cumberland sophomore Charles Kerbaj swims the breaststroke portion of the 200-yard individual medley during last Thursday afternoon’s virtual meet. Kerbaj’s time was 2:30.93.