By ANDREW GARDA
Things started out a bit shaky for the Montclair Kimberley Academy swim team during the 2022 Super Essex Conference swimming championships Monday at the New Jersey Institute of Technology when several of the team’s members couldn’t make it to the event.
“Unfortunately, before we even got to the meet, we lost four kids last minute due to COVID and travel issues with the storm,” MKA head coach Gretchen Ievers said on the phone after the meet.
“So, we were supposed to have 11 swimmers, total, and we ended up having just seven.”
That meant swimmers had to take over swimming in events they normally wouldn’t, especially for relays, which needed multiple swimmers just for the Cougars to compete.
“With the boys [breaststroke] relay we lost our main breaststroker,” the coach said. “So, we had to fill that in with the only boys we had left, and they did great. They did amazingly, but not in swimming their best strokes.”
For the girls, having the number of available swimmers go from five to three meant they had to drop out of two relays, the 200 meter medley relay and the 200 meter free relay, and focus on individual races.
Both the boys and girls teams competed hard despite the issues brought on by their teammates’ not being available.
The boys, despite only being able to field four swimmers, finished in eighth place, while the girls battled hard in the individual events.
“The boys had to show resilience and focus,” Ievers said. “And with a last-minute switch from five girls to three, the girls also showed resilience and maturity, as they had to overcome having to back out of the [relays] and put their focus into their individual events, and they showed intensity.”
For the boys, senior and Montclair resident Raghav Cholappadi was the top point-scorer for the Cougars, earning 21 points total and finishing third in the 100m fly and sixth in the 100m backstroke.
For the girls, junior and Montclair resident Lindsay Driever earned the most points, with a total of 22, swimming to third in the 500m freestyle with a time of 5:22.90 and placing fifth in the 200m freestyle with a time of 2:00.81.
The boys 200m free relay team, consisting of Cholappadi and fellow seniors Wesley Tse and Andrew Kim and junior Charlie Kenrick, placed sixth. The same group also competed in the 200m medley relay and finished eighth.
The best times for the boys were Cholappadi (54.97) and Tse (1:06.34) in the 100m fly, with Cholappadi also speeding to a fast finish in the 100m backstroke with a time of 56.53. Kenrick finished the 100m freestyle in 54.01.
For the girls, the best times were held by senior Bella Masella, who swam a 27.58 in the 50m freestyle and a 1:07.76 in the 100m fly, and senior Mia Forysiak, who swam a 26.37 50m freestyle and a 57.93 100m freestyle.
While the team remained focused on competing, they were also concerned with their sick teammates.
“Quite frankly, they were sad and cared about the kids who were missing because they’re sick,” Ievers said. “The girls that are missing are sick, they have COVID, and they’re not well. So, [the team was] really worried about them too and reached out to them to say, I hope you’re OK.”
Ievers said that the closeness of the team has been evident since her first day.
“When I met the captains in the beginning of the year, that was their message,” she said. “We are a close-knit group. We do things together, we support each other. And that hasn’t wavered.”