No place to call home: PHS swimmers make best of tough year without a pool

PLYMOUTH — As the swim season winds down, Plymouth’s swim squads can reflect back on an unusual season.
With the closing of the PHS pool last year to make way for the new School of Inquiry technology center, the 2012-13 season got off to inauspicious beginnings. Plymouth contracted with nearby Oregon-Davis to host its swim practices, and the daily drive has cut into the teams’ time in the water. Without any home meets, a schedule set exclusively on the road has been challenging too.
But the Pilgrims have made the best of it.
“Driving to practice daily — it’s a 30-mile trip round trip — is not as bad as you would think. The kids, sometimes they’ll bring food, they’ll unwind a little bit, visit and chat,” said Plymouth head swim coach Leanne Senter. “The hardest part is no home swim meets, no home. Having Senior Night at the basketball game, that’s okay. I think the interesting thing is it’s against Warsaw, and Warsaw supports us in our efforts and is amazed.”
Most coaches that have seen the numbers for Plymouth’s swim lineups have been impressed. The Pilgrims have just 22 athletes between the two squads — nine on the boys side and 13 on the girls — and while those aren’t big-program numbers by any stretch, they’re comparable to turnout in years past. And the retention rate this season has actually been better than in some years despite the unique difficulties the Pilgrims have faced.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve ended up with 22. I’m real pleased that our numbers stayed pretty solid this year,” said Plymouth Athletic Director Roy Benge. “Normally we have more drop than that. I’m very proud that our kids were able to overcome some obstacles — obviously the fact that they didn’t have a home pool to swim in. With that being said, we’re real pleased with their effort and look forward to continuing swimming here as an activity.”
Many times, shared adversity can create tighter bonds among those who share it. Because of the unique commitments engendered by completing a swim season without a pool, Plymouth swimmers express a mutual admiration for their teammates.
“It’s hard traveling… and getting out and getting home late. Practices are very different. Our yardage is a lot shorter because of the time that we spend traveling,” said senior captain Megan Senter.
“For me it’s kind of affected me mentally or emotionally just knowing that, I think that all of the kids on the team are so dedicated, are dedicated enough to do it. I just think that’s awesome.”
“I’m pretty impressed about the team,” said Daniel DeLeon, a senior foreign exchange student from Panama. “There’s a lot of freshman like Chris (Whitley) and Colin (Calvert). Chris always has the most difficult events, and he don’t quit. It’s pretty awesome that a freshman, he does it and he doesn’t say no. He always continues.
“The team that there is right now, it’s because they like to swim. I’m pretty impressed with them.”
With limited practice time, a difficult meet schedule and few veteran swimmers — the Pilgrims’ roster includes only six seniors in Megan Senter, Jake Martin, Brandon Brashere, Brady Ruffing and first-year upperclassmen DeLeon and Brianda Lowe — the rewards have sometimes been hard to come by.
One bright spot for Plymouth came in a recent dual meet with Tippecanoe Valley as both teams were able to pull out victories. The girls escaped with an 83-81 victory on the heels of a tough Northern Lakes Conference championship meet, and the boys were boosted by an 87-69 win heading into their own conference meet.
“Tippy Valley’s actually smaller than our team. There were a few good races at that meet, but it felt good to finally win a meet,” said Martin.
“The Tippy Valley meet was the first time I had swum the 200 free,” said Lowe. “It was a really good meet for me because I met the sectional time for the 500, and in the 200 there was a girl there that said it was her event, that’s what she normally swam, and I actually out-touched her. That was a pretty good feeling.”
“I think it was a definite confidence-booster for all of us because the girls had just gotten done with NLCs, and the NLCs are tough in swimming,” said Megan Senter. “We had just gotten done and we were tired and we were beat, and it was a good refresher.”
Plymouth’s girls enter the home stretch of their season against a 14-team field at the Warsaw Sectional prelims tonight. Top 16 swimmers earn a spot back to the finals Saturday, and, based on the meet seed times, Coach Senter believes that her top six swimmers have a good shot at earning a berth to the weekend. Plymouth’s boys are beginning to wind down the year with their sectionals scheduled in two weeks at Warsaw, meanwhile.
Whatever the next few weeks holds for Plymouth’s swimmers, Senter says she couldn’t couldn’t be prouder of them.
“I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids that have hung in there,” she said. “And we have a whole new coaching staff besides me in Nathan Mayer and Curt Samuelson and Alayna Holmquest, our volunteer diving coach. I appreciate all of them stepping up and riding the rollercoaster. That’s kind of what it’s been like.”