By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD CREST — A few months ago, many of the people involved with the high school swimming programs at Lower Cape May Regional and Wildwood Catholic Academy might not have thought what happened Friday afternoon was even a possibility.
“I didn’t think we’d have a season. I really didn’t,” Wildwood Catholic coach Chris Gamble said.
But there the teams were, competing against one another at the Joseph Von Savage Memorial Pool.
Lower Cape May won the meet, 118-48, behind a more experienced and deeper lineup.
But that part wasn’t really what was important. The simple fact that they were swimming was.
Holding a high school swim season during a health crisis was certainly a challenge. Many programs in the Cape-Atlantic League had difficulty obtaining quality practice time. Some couldn’t get any at all.
Wildwood Catholic, with its 12-athlete roster, was able to train daily at the Von Savage Pool. But restrictions on social distancing and rules on mask-wearing while out of the pool were a challenge.
“I think all things considered, with all the restrictions in place, the kids did a great job,” Gamble said. “It was certainly different and more difficult but the kids adapted and persevered.”
Lower Cape May endured even greater challenges. The Tigers could not gain access to the Cape May Elementary School and U.S. Coast Guard Base pools that they’ve used in the past for practices. That left them using the Von Savage Pool two evenings per week and on Sundays and forced the coaching staff to develop virtual dry workouts multiple times per week.
“It’s actually been a positive, because they’ve been getting stronger out of the pool as well as in it,” Lower coach Brittany O’Donnell said. “We’ve been upping our outside-the-pool workouts over the past year anyway, so for the situation we were in I think it ended up working out well.”
High school swimming season normally runs from November until early March. This season, teams didn’t begin practicing until February. The season is due to finish later this month.
“Pushing it from November to February, it was a little strange to have swimming season starting then, but the first day we got in the pool we were all like, ‘It’s great to be back,’” O’Donnell said. “We have great kids. They’re good with academics and they’re respected by their teachers and they have fun while they’re here. They’ve all gotten better as the year’s gone on. With everything that’s gone on, it’s been a really good season.”
Teams have only been able to compete in dual meets. Some have been held virtually, others in person. There will be no team or individual postseason meets.
But, again, at least there was a season.
“It was nice that the NJSIAA came up with a way to do this and even offered the virtual swimming options,” Gamble said. “It ended up working out pretty well. All these kids have been faced with so many different things in their lives over this past year, in school and in their activities and everything else. They all made the best of it and adapted to it. It’s actually kind of nice that it’s almost spring and we’re still swimming.”
In Friday’s meet, Lower’s Kaitlyn Crouthamel, Zeb Hinker and Justin Melli were each part of four first-place finishes. They each were on two winning relay teams, while Crouthamel placed first in the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Hinker won the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly and Melli claimed top honors in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. Blaise McKeown also placed first in the 100 breaststroke and Max Souder won the 200 freestyle.
For Wildwood Catholic, Leilani Wong and Gavin Rosenello each placed second in two individual events.