After a year of socially distanced high school athletics, many teams look forward to simply returning to normal competition. For the Arizona College Prep swim team, this season is about becoming a family again.
Usually a very close group, the ACP swim team lost most of their team building activities during the 2020 season. COVID protocols kept the team socially distanced during travel to meets and limited team building opportunities.
“Last year, the culture was there but I feel like we were all kind of distanced with COVID,” said senior Kate Shimkus.
After a year with limited team building, swimmers look forward to working back toward the family feeling the team had before the pandemic. Seniors who have experienced the team under normal conditions are leading the charge to make everyone feel welcome.
“We obviously had team bonding last year but it was not as close as it was this year, so it’s really cool that as seniors we get to take that on and mentor the freshmen,” said senior Kate White.
For this year’s seniors, this season is as much about making current members feel welcome as it is about instilling the values in members to continue to include everyone in the years to come. They hope to leave a legacy of inclusion that will continue long after they graduate.
Senior Olivia Ramos wants the underclassmen to know that there is an expectation to include everyone on the team and make them feel welcome. Ramos, Shimkus and White remember what it was like to be an underclassman on the team and how much they appreciated the upperclassmen including them, and they want to return that favor to the current underclassmen.
“At the end of the year when we leave the team, I want them to know that they can always come and talk to us if they need anything,” said White.
Coach Kristine Nelson has watched Ramos, Shimkus and White grow as team members since their freshman year. Nelson credits them with always embodying the core values of the team.
“They’re the glue that holds the team together,” said Nelson.
With the move to a new campus, Nelson has a very young team. The returning swimmers are integral to instilling the values of the team in the new swimmers. Ramos, Shimkus and White have taken on the role of mentoring the young swimmers in hopes that the family aspect of the team remains long after they graduate.
“The discipline they have to rise to a higher level with integrity and ethics, leading by modeling, even when somebody faster than you is coming along, they still do that,” said Nelson.
As a coach, Nelson has watched Ramos, Shimkus and White grow not only as swimmers, but as people as well. She has seen them grow into young women who can understand the decisions she makes as a coach and help the rest of the team to understand those decisions.
Nelson was brought to tears at the thought of the 2021 season being their last season on the team.
At the end of the day, the seniors are less concerned about results and more concerned about making every team member feel welcome and included. Shimkus wants every team member to feel as included and appreciated as she has in her four years on the team.
“I want to leave a legacy of making it so the minute you join the team, you know that you’ve joined a family and that everyone on the team wants the best for you,” she said.
Kathryn Field is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Arizona College Preparatory athletics.