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West Forsyth swimming takes to the pool

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

It might be December and there is building excitement for the upcoming Christmas holiday, but for many in North Carolina the euphoria that is here is that many high school students from West Forsyth have jumped into the swimming pool.

That’s right. After a long hiatus, high school swimming has started in earnest across the state. Practice started on Nov. 23 and meets started this past Monday. West Forsyth’s first meet is Friday against Central Piedmont 4-A rival Reagan.

But, like all other sports within the NCHSAA, swimming has been affected by COVID-19. The 2019-20 season finished in February, less than a month before the pandemic shut down much of the country. However, the NCHSAA delayed the start of this season a couple weeks, and it has also compressed the season. For example, West Forsyth only has four conference meets, and the NCHSAA has mandated that Jan. 30 be the final scheduled date for regular-season meets.

“Funny enough, most of our year-round kids do year-round training anyway,” said fourth-year Coach Sandy Thomerson of the Titans. “So I really don’t have anything preseason. A lot of the kids are at TYDE or Enfinity (swim clubs).

“We lucked up that we finished a season there last season. COVID hit right after we won conference. Thank goodness we had the season.”

Even though Thomerson and her swimmers for West Forsyth have adapted to the schedule change it’s still a change.

“The way it has affected us this season is a lot less competition meets,” she said. “Where as we would have anywhere from eight to nine swim meets. We now have three, four. So we have half the meets.”

Also, like many sports across the state, whether there was a season or not was hanging in the balance during the summer and early fall.

“We almost didn’t have a season. We were worrying about how we were going to pull it off,” Thomerson said. “…I think kids are maybe more grateful that we actually have it and they’re appreciating the camaraderie of it because they’re not at school with each other.”

High schools in Forsyth County have been and are currently in virtual learning from home to help curb the spread of COVID-19. In addition to that the NCHSAA has many protocols for the swimmers when they have practice at Jerry Long YMCA in Clemmons.

“I have to encourage our kids to stay with our year-round club teams than practice with me just because of space,” Thomerson said. “Obviously we have to do temperature checks, and keep the distancing. So they can’t have as much fun as — horseplaying that kids normally have.”

With only a few exceptions, the boys and girls teams have understood the ramifications if they break COVID-19 protocols.

“I really haven’t had to ride them too much with their masks,” Thomerson said. “(I) make sure they put them on and are wearing them. Obviously, it’ll be more interesting on Friday to see how we do it, but we did pretty well at the mock meet, and the kids for the most part were following protocol.”

The NCHSAA even went a step further with swimming protocols.

“The NCHSAA actually put protocols in place where the kids have to have baggies with their names on them,” Thomerson said. “They have to wear the mask, take the bag to the blocks, put the mask in the bag, get on the blocks, race. We do dive-overs as soon as they get out they then put their mask on and leave the entry area.”

Now that West Forsyth swimming has fought through a strange offseason, worked through early practices and COVID-19 protocols there is much to be excited about West Forsyth swimming. The Titans’ boys won last season’s conference meet and the girls finished third.

The West Forsyth boys should definitely be in the mix for this season’s conference title, but it will have to replace some mainstays from the past couple years. The Titans lost Luke Vlahos, who won the conference 100- and 200-yard freestyle, and was also part of the winning 200 medley relay and 400 free relay teams, to graduation. Connor Greene graduated after winning the 50 free and 100 breaststroke, in addition to being part of the winning 200 free relay team with Alex Valliere, Griffin Watkins and Jake Frieberg. Frieberg and Watkins also graduated, However, Patrick McKenna transferred from Reagan, sat out last season, and will replenish what the Titans, who finished 11th in 2019 NCHSAA Class 4-A state meet in February.

(McKenna) is a pretty even replacement for Connor Greene,” Thomerson said. “I’d say different event, well, not different events necessarily — 100 breast. 100 free — where as Conner did 50 free and 100 breast.”

Thomerson said she thinks it will be a three-team race for the boys conference title with Reagan and Reynolds. As for the girls, it’s kind of wait and see.

“The girls are real young,” she said. “I’m gonna have five seniors, but of those only one qualified for the regionals last year. So I have a lot of young girls that sophomores and juniors that do pretty well.”

Assuming teams get through the season without any hiccups because of COVID-19, there is still a lot of uncertainty with the postseason.

“I don’t know that we’re even going to do team scores the way we’re doing conference this year because we’re only allowing top-eight to qualify,” Thomerson said. “You can enter two for conference. I don’t know that they’ll do team trophies. It would be difficult to comment on that.”