Nothing came easy for Cathedral High School girls swimming in 2020-2021.
A decidedly unusual season was at once difficult and memorable – and throughout it all, Ashley Hill said one thing remained clear.
Every day was special. Every opportunity mattered.
“We talked about it all year: Every day was a high moment,” Hill, in her third season as the Irish’s girls and boys swimming coach, said. “This was a season that for everybody was just going to be different. Like every sport, we had some things canceled and some things moved. Some things didn’t exist.
“We really were appreciative of every day we had.”
Hill said that was the case for both programs in 2020-2021, with the boys and girls teams dealing with COVID-19 adversity – and with the girls overcoming the adversity for a second-place finish in the city meet and an impressive swim at the season-ending sectional meet.
The Irish girls in 2020-2021 overcame schedule changes, various absences because of COVID-19 contact tracing and the difficulty of practicing at times with limited lane space.
“All that being said, come the end of it – in sectionals – they swam fantastic,” Hill said. “COVID defined the beginning of the season and I think our kids decided they were going to overcome that and turn it into a positive.”
Hill said the performance in the city meet was particularly memorable, with the Irish finishing as the runners-up despite missing distance swimmers because of contact tracing.
“We overcame it,” she said. “A really good job on our swimmers’ parts. They did a really good job of scrambling, swimming some events out of their comfort zones. Our relays over-achieved. That was a fun meet even though we didn’t win it. They were proud of what they did and really put it together.”
The Irish were led in ’20-21 by a strong senior class that included Abygail Dravis, Lindsey Huntzinger, Erica Weed, Bailey Johnson and Annabella McGinley-King.
“Each of them took on their own group of kids to mentor,” Hill said. “They always trained with the same couple of kids, the same side of the pool. Each took ownership of their pods. That was what helped us at the end of the season come together as a team.
“We work really hard to build a team in a sport that easily lends itself to being an individual endeavor. Those leaders really came together and helped our kids.”
The Irish finished seventh in the Section 14 meet with 127 points behind sectional champion North Central with 510. A look at the Irish in the sectional:
*Junior Samantha Klug finished third in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:01.64, also finishing fifth in the sectional in the 100-yard freestyle in 55.71.
*Dravis – a four-year varsity swimmer – finished 10th in the 50-yard freestyle in 26.81, also finishing 10th in the 100-yard butterfly in 1:06.10.
*Sophomore Sandra Granados finished 12th in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:29.87, also finishing 11th in the 500-yard freestyle in 5:48.79.
*Junior Elle Lewis finished 13th in the 50-yard freestyle in 28.15, also finishing 16th in the 100-yard freestyle in 1:02.80.
*Freshman Libby Lewis finished 14th in the 50-yard freestyle in 28.53.
*Huntzinger – a four-year varsity swimmer – finished 14th in the 100-yard backstroke in 1:07.86, and also finished 16th in the sectional in the 100-yard butterfly in 1:10.89.
*Weed finished 15th in the 200-yard freestyle in 2:17.76.
*Sophomore Charlotte Thompson finished 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:21.61.
The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Klug, sophomore Caroline Keltner, Lewis and Dravis finished fourth with a time of 1:48.47, and the 400-yard freestyle relay team of Dravis, Lewis, Granados and Klug finished sixth in 4:01.08.
Hill said as much as any individual, the season was defined by the program overall. Hill said she and athletic director Rick Streiff decided before the season decided to keep the program’s longstanding philosophy – that all athletes are welcome – intact.
Hill said that COVID-19 made that difficult – with many city pools closing because of the pandemic. The Fort Ben YMCA opened its pool to the program when many other pools would not, likely saving the Cathedral and Bishop Chatard seasons.
“It would have been real easy for the school to say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to train the top athletes this year and the other kids who are more rec swimmers are going to have to wait until COVID’s done,’’’ Hill said. “We didn’t do that, which is awesome.
“That meant putting some bigger finances behind swimming than normal. It goes with our philosophy and our mission of our school. Our families, our kids and myself as a coach really appreciated that.
“It allows us to do what we do as a swim program at Cathedral, which is to serve everyone.”
And Hill said a program that overcame adversity and showed leadership in a decidedly difficult and rewarding season is in position to stay strong moving forward.
“We have a nice core of sophomore and freshman that were able to experience this season with this veteran group,” Hill said. “That will help us transition to the future even though we’re losing some big seniors and some senior leadership. They’ve done a good job of leaving a positive legacy.
“We have great kids. They love each other and what they’re doing. They’ve really started to enjoy the process. The future is bright.”