Emeril Gordon is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Casteel High School Athletics.
With covid behind them and a new coach on deck Casteel swim sets its sights on developing a culture that extends to its school community and beyond.
Like many programs last year, Casteel swim was hit with major changes due to COVID-19. The team practiced in multiple small groups instead of the whole team together, each athlete was required to scan into practice with a QR code and complete a survey about whether he or she had any COVID-19 symptoms and of course limited attendance at meets.
The most drastic change of them all was virtual swim meets. Virtual swim meets entailed each team swimming against itself, taking down each event’s time, and sending the times to the district. Once the times were sent to the district, it (the district) would put them up against the times of the team Casteel was competing against to come up with the point totals and which team won the meet.
“It (meets) was the only time we actually got to do anything together with the whole team,’’ junior and team co-captain Aubrey Cook said.
Because the team was never together outside of meets last season it was difficult for them to get to know each other outside of those who were in the same practice group together. Coming into the current season, rebuilding a solid team dynamic was one of the team’s top priorities as seeing a covid season takeaway one of the best parts of being a part of a team put things in perspective for the athletes.
“Now that the normalcy is back, we (the team) really wanted to take advantage of it,’’ Cook said. “So, this season the team has really taken time to get to know each other.’’
Cook’s fellow co- captain senior Presley Glenn noted that building this team dynamic for her as a co-captain began at try-outs.
“I introduced myself to everyone that I could while at try-outs,’’ she said. ‘’Especially the freshmen because it is important to help make them feel welcome since they did not really know anyone yet.’’
The underclassmen are having a huge impact not only in the pool but outside of the pool for the team as well.
In past years, Glenn said that she attempted to take on the role of recruiting students to join the swim team because of how much she loved being a part of the team but had little success with those attempts.
Cook believes that despite Glenn’s unsuccessful attempts to recruit for the team, the attitude and energy of the underclassmen on the team this year will yield even greater interest and participation rates than Glenn had attempted to achieve in the past.
“They are super outgoing and enthusiastic about the sport and many of them participate in competitive swimming at the club level outside of the high school season,’’ Cook said. “I think their enthusiasm paired with their involvement will bring a greater level of pride and participation to the team.’’
Going into her final season with the team next year, Cook would like to help the team achieve an interest level comparable to that of what football and soccer has at Casteel.
“Everyone is always talking about going to certain football and soccer games and filling up the student section,’’ she said. “I would love to hear students talking about coming to meets and invitationals to support the swim team.’’
Head swim coach Leonard Hass believes this is a fully attainable goal for the sport at Casteel.
“We just need to continue to show what we are capable of. We are a formidable force in high school swimming,’’ Hass said. “And of course, we have to get the word out (about the meets) too.’’
During Hass’s first year as coach of this team he has focused on two things with the team: building a family and building each athlete’s character.
He said he treats each kid the way he wants them to treat each other and hopes that the relationships they develop extend beyond swimming.
Glenn said that is indeed what happened in her case.
“I met many of my best friends during my high school career on this team,’’ she said. “Being a part of this group has truly been special and I am glad I made the decision to do so.’’
Adding something more to who his athletes are other than simply swimmers is also important to Hass.
“Swimming is one of the best sports to build character,’’ Hass said of a reason why he hopes more students get involved at Casteel.
Cook concurred with Hass, saying she credits swimming and her co-captain role this year with improving her confidence. She said she can be a little reserved but being given the position pushed her to step up, take charge and be more vocal.
Glenn said she will carry with her the fun times and memories she has had while a part of this team while Cook is looking forward to helping build and cement the legacy of Casteel swim going into her senior year.
Hass is excited to see the team evolve and said at the end of the day he wants the team to stick by each other’s side, have no regrets and lift each other up as they climb to greater heights.