By Rachel Talcoff
Hometown Weekly Intern
This fall’s high school sports season is right around the corner, yet countless student-athletes and eager fans are left with uncertainty as to how the season will play out. Teams must prepare for whatever lies ahead while COVID-19 is spreading, making it particularly difficult for high-contact sports to begin.
But what of individual sports? Needham High School’s renowned girls’ varsity swimming and diving team is a perfect example.
With a lesser likelihood of COVID contraction than their contact-sport peers, Needham High’s swimmers and divers are preparing for unprecedented success. Last year, the team earned second place at State Championships for the first time in school history, and placed 15th in the National Dual Meet Power Ranking. This year, Needham’s swimmers and divers are hoping for a season to once again demonstrate their team’s strength.
According to swimming head Coach Rachel Waldstein, this could be a year of ultimate success for the team. The girls are fully capable of capturing wins in the Bay State Conference and at Sectionals, as well as a repeating as state runners-up. “The amount of work that was done over the summer will directly impact how quickly we can be ready to compete at the level that we will need to repeat the success of last year,” exclaimed Waldstein. “When I think about the upcoming season, the phrases that come to mind are ‘be prepared’ and ‘be flexible’ … As coaches, we are prepared to be as creative as we need to give as much normalcy to this season as possible.”
Staying in shape; communicating between captains, coaches, and teammates; and overcoming the physical barrier of social distancing are among the messages consistently reinforced to members of the team by captains and coaches. “The Needham High varsity girls’ swimming and diving captains have been working extra hard to keep the swimmers in shape,” rising senior captain Allie Jiang notes. “A lot of the girls on the Needham team do have access to some forms of swimming, whether it be from club teams finally opening up pools, or open-water swimming in local lakes.” Jiang mentions that despite the reopening of multiple club-based teams, she and her co-captains wanted to create a fun way to get the team together and build excitement for the season. “The captains have organized a ‘color war’ event in which we split our team up into four colors: white, blue, green, and red … We do all sorts of dry land exercises, from HIIT workouts to cardio. At the end of each week, the captains determine the winner of the weekly competition … At the end of the summer, there will be a TBD big prize for the ultimate winners,” relates Jiang in utter excitement.
Rising junior diver Chloe Berg reflects on the struggles of finding a board from which to dive amid the pandemic. Berg, along with many fellow divers from the nearby area, has been participating in a clinic with the Newton North diving coach at Wellesley’s BSI pool. “I did one clinic last week and it was definitely a little bit weird … But it was nice to get back on the board after not diving for a while,” she says. Berg, who showed much success in last year’s season and is hoping to continually improve, also notes that “although it is hard to gain new skills with just one clinic per week, lots of dry land type workouts also help me stay in shape.”
“During the lockdown when the world was seemingly unpredictable, imperfect, and unprecedented, our annual Swim Across America fundraiser for cancer research - even our team outings to Anna’s Taqueria, where we bonded over our affinity for burritos - had to be called off,” expresses captain Madison Talcoff. Talcoff seizes on another point: if this year’s season is cancelled, the team will lose much more than just a state title, but the endless bonding moments, friendships, and laughs that come with the season.
“NHS girls’ swimming and diving team is about the incredible bond between teammates; the way they push each other to be better and support each other through tough practices and setbacks in the pool,” reinforces Coach Waldstein.
The biggest question, however, is whether Needham’s Rockets will soar to victory, or if COVID-19 will end a season for which so many young and talented athletes have prepared.