Friday night, the sounds of splashing and upbeat music could be heard from the SUNY New Paltz pool, where the New Paltz High School girls varsity swim team had been practicing for hours the night before the Section IX Varsity Girls Swim Championship.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, the girls won the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division 1 championship for the second year in a row. The team came out of COVID-19 stronger than ever and their coach, Emily Blenkert, attributes it to the team’s commitment. “They are very committed. They’re not only committed to the sport of swimming, but they are committed to each other.” Blenkert commented on how good they are as teammates, stating that they just love spending time together.
Before their win, the team stood in a circle, arms around each other, waiting for the results — a physical representation of the camaraderie they share. Blenkert and assistant coach, Melissa Gruver-LaPolt, make sure to emphasize the importance of teamwork through an anecdote before tournaments, giving each of the girls a piece of rope and reminding them that all the teams that have won, in every sport, each of the members have contributed and helped carry the rope. “Every part of that team held a piece of the rope and if you hold on to that rope, everybody kind of comes together and the rope becomes one… It’s a great visual to mental thing for them to say ‘okay, I have a place on this team.’”
The team’s environment seems to have paid off, as they’ve been undefeated all season. On Thursday, the team had the Section IX preliminaries and it was nothing short of a success. “They swam out of their minds. They had five state cuts in the first 45 minutes of the meet. Like all four first events, we had a state cut in every single one,” said Blenkert.
From the beginning of the meet, the team felt good about it. “Our freshman, Jojo Laurie, set off the tone… She got one of her best times. That just really set the tone for everyone,” said Kate Suchowiecki, a senior on the team who made states at the Section IX preliminaries in both the 200m medley relay and the 50m freestyle. Suchowiecki said that she and the team were excited for the Section IX Championship on Saturday. She attributed her lack of nerves to Blenkert saying, “Yesterday, I had no nerves at all for the first time ever and I think Emily just really helped with that. She always gave me those pep talks.”
The team’s success isn’t just meaningful for them but for New Paltz as a whole. “The town’s excited, the school’s excited. It’s really great,” said Blenkert.
At Saturday’s section meet, the team had five state qualifiers. Suchowiecki qualified in the 200m medley relay and the 50m freestyle. Brooke Vos qualified in the 200m medley relay, the 200m individual medley and the 100m back. Alaura Sheeley and Jojo Laurie qualified in the 200m medley relay. Maya Pizzarello qualified in 200m free and 500m free, breaking school records. The team had ten finalists, seven all-time bests and nine season bests. Blenkert was awarded coach of the year.
The team will be competing at the state swimming and diving championship on Nov. 17-18 at the Webster Aquatic Center.
For more information, visit the New Paltz Central School District website, Athletics/District Athletics Home (newpaltz.k12.ny.us) or the team’s Instagram: @np_girlsvarsityswim.