By Tim Lima
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Foes in nearly every other sport, three local high schools now have the unique opportunity to pair students together to comprise the area’s only high school swim team.
Newburyport, Triton and Georgetown high school students will be competing alongside each other rather than against each other.
“Everybody wants to win,” assistant coach and Newburyport High alumnus Alex Supple said. “But it’s also going to be a chance to grow the program. For a lot of kids it’s their first taste of high school sports so you want to provide them an atmosphere that’s welcoming and encourage them to continue. Beyond having a successful season in the pool, we want to create a space for people to feel like they belong to something whether or not they have a lot of individual wins.”
The team-first approach to this season was made clear from the get-go in a welcome letter sent by head coach Diane Sagaser.
In the letter, Sagaer said that she “plans to promote team spirit and a sense of pride in this new cooperative team, building camaraderie within a group of young adults who sign on to become a part of this exciting experience.”
Swimming is unique from many other winter sports, for athletes compete both individually and as a team. While many students swam on their own time or on club teams, this new swim team enables student-athletes the opportunity to compete together against other high schools.
“I like being on a team because I get to push myself harder each day,” Newburyport native and team captain Nikki Samuelson said. “I get to be with teammates, and I thought it was really cool that I can now swim during high school and be connected with other high school students.”
It also gives athletes an opportunity to make new friends who have a similar interest in swimming. Even on just day two of practice, this process has already begun between the team comprised of 22 boys and girls.
“I didn’t know any of the students from the other schools before (Monday’s) practice,” Samuelson said. “They all seem nice, though.”
Being around a pool is nothing new for coach Sagaser.
Involved in the sport for 40 years, Sagaser’s career competing in the pool led her to Springfield College where she swam at a collegiate level. She then went on to set records at the Masters level, which is a competitive adult program. Needless to say, Sagaser has enough experience to know what it takes to become a strong swimmer — and much of it is not in water.
While the environment is friendly, the training is very challenging.
“I definitely like working out in the water more than on land,” said Samuelson. “On land is far more difficult.”
Who can blame her? Work outside of the pool, called the “dry land” workout, is meant to strengthen the core and condition the body for time in the water. This includes pushups, situps and various other cardiovascular exercises.
“We run with the kids twice a week,” said Sagaser. “What we do is everything that we can do on land. This involves core work, flexibility and strength training.”
The athletes then proceed to get in the pool where they typically swim between 2,000 and 3,000 yards doing anything from sprints to distance training.
The Cape Ann League in swimming is represented by six different high schools: North Reading, Manchester Essex, Lynnfield, Masconomet, Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham. Those schools will make up the entirety of the team’s schedule that begins on Dec. 14 and ends on Jan. 28 before the team moves into its championship season.
“We aren’t going to be making any cuts so it is going to be available to everybody,” Supple said. “There are also a lot of kids that swam on club teams year-round but that have never had the opportunity to swim for their high school before. We are giving the kids from these three schools a chance to do that, and we think its a good opportunity.”