Ian Virga and Amelie House (left and middle) competed at Metros in the 100 yard backstroke, and Olivia Miller (right) competed in 1 meter diving.
No, the swimming pool is not located on the third floor of Kennedy High School (despite the decades-long rumor that the swimmers practice at school, or that there even is a third floor). Yes, Kennedy does indeed have a swim and dive team, and yes, they get to leave school fifteen minutes early to get to practice on time.
After a rocky couple of years, the swim and dive team has begun to gain some momentum and recognition. “I was confident that there would be progress…that we would do better than last year. I was hopeful that we would have people make Metros, and I thought we could pull out more wins than last year,” said Bryn Blanchard, head coach for the swim and dive team.
And that is exactly what happened. The girls’ team placed fifth this year at divisionals, beating both Paint Branch and Watkins Mill, two teams they also defeated during the regular season. The boys’ team, despite having a 0-7 record, successfully worked to minimize point gaps, and their final scores were much closer than previous seasons.
Swimming, like track, is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. There are larger meets such as States, for which participation depends on individual placing in the Regional meet, and Metros, which swimmers qualify for by swimming a specific time or faster, which is referred to as a cut time. These higher-level, more competitive meets allow for faster swimmers to race those who are their speed but not necessarily in their division, region, county, or even state.
For the first time since the 2016-17 swim season, Kennedy had not only one, but two swimmers—and a diver—qualify for one of these larger, more competitive meets, where swimmers such as Olympic gold medalist Katie Ladecky swam during her high school career.
Getting within seconds of the cut time last year in the 100yd backstroke, junior Ian Virga and sophomore Amelie House, the top male and female scorers on Kennedy’s team, finally reached their goal of competing at Metros on Saturday, February 8 at Germantown Indoor Swim Center.
During the first meet of the regular season, Virga swam a 1:03.91 in the 100yd backstroke, coming the closest to the metros qualifying time of 1:02.19 before officially breaking it in the fifth meet.
House, however, was even closer, swimming a 1:07.94. She was only 65 milliseconds (about the length of a sneeze) away from the female cut time of 1:07.29—and that was just the first meet of the season. “It was disappointing, but I was very hopeful… it definitely motivated me for the rest of the season,” said House.
Both swimmers began to practice hard, trying to tweak their technique in order to shave off that extra little bit of time. “I just wanted to go to Metros,” said Virga. Blanchard began to create workouts geared towards targeting specific aspects of their races that lacked. “Under. Waters. Underwaters, underwaters! Twenty-fives underwater as long as they could go, underwaters off every wall, underwaters off every flipturn—underwaters all the time,” was Blanchard’s main enhanced workout for the two of them, as well as the whole team.
In swimming, the technique of kicking hard and fast to cover a far distance under the water off of each wall is just as important as the actual stroke swam across the pool. It shaves off those extra seconds and in doing so helps to edge out a competitor.
With “underwaters” in mind, House and Virga swam the next couple of meets hoping to drop time to earn a lane a Metros, but fell just short meet after meet. Finally, on January 18 during the meet against Paint Branch, Virga pushed through and swam a 1:01.97. “I was just trying to not lose, but I still lost, but I guess I just kind of got it [the Metros cut time],” he explained.
The following meet, House, even after completely botching her start due to the slippery walls, swam a 1:06.75. “I had to do longer underwaters for the last twenty-five,” said House. “I saw the girl next to me, like in front of me, so it pushed me harder to go faster.” Both Virga and House had finally got the cut time and qualified for Metros.
Ian Virga was one of seventy-four swimmers from the D.C. metro area, ranging from both public and private high schools, that competed in the 100yd backstroke, and Amelie House was one of eighty. Kennedy High School finally had representation at a swim meet where there were over 1,000 swimmers.
“Even though I didn’t do my best, I didn’t care about the time, I was just happy I went,” said House after her race. She swam a personal best time at Metros, but didn’t place well in her heat. “I did bad, but it didn’t matter at that point.” Virga, despite also not placing well, was still excited that he had qualified for the meet and had the opportunity to race swimmers that were around his level and faster.
“They almost got it last year, and they’re both young swimmers—last year Ami was a freshman, Ian was a sophomore,” Blanchard reflected on the previous season, and emphasized her hopes for seasons to come. “Even with the next year ahead of them, I have no doubt that they will continue to hit these metro cut times, and potentially qualify for different events.”