On Friday, Unalaska's swim team held a closed-door swim meet with attendees permitted only by reservation. The team has been unable to host or participate in normal swim meets due to COVID-19 health regulations. But students, coaches, captains, and family members gathered—at safe distances—to cheer the team on for the first and possibly only time this season.
At the swim meet, name tags were attached to benches to mark swimmers' designated seats, parents watched quietly from behind glass in the mezzanine, and the swimmers tried their hardest not to yell in excitement for their friends—using handheld noisemakers to cheer them on instead.
The Unalaska swim team head coach Delanney Lane said the process to get permission from the city and the school to hold Friday's meet involved a lot of time and effort on her end.
"I went on [Microsoft] Publisher and drew out the pool," said Lane. "And I said this is where this bench is going to be, and this is where this swimmer is going to be, and I wrote out a list of what they can and can't do, [for example] they couldn't scream or chant or whatever, just to be extra safe."
This is Lane's first year coaching the school's swim team, and she said, like many things this year, the season has been a struggle for her, as well as the students. Because of COVID-19 social distancing mandates and a strict quarantine on the island, the team has not been able to compete or travel in the way they normally do. And according to Lane, this was likely the only meet the junior high team will be able to compete in this season.
"We're already halfway through the season," she said. "So it's kind of a big deal, because [the meet is] so late. Normally, swimmers have a swim meet and a time trial within two weeks of the start of season, just to get times rolling. And normally by now, they have gone on two trips and have raced against other teams."
Lane said Friday's meet was a chance to test out her mitigation plan—to make sure it would work—and to give the team something to strive for.
Team captain Lily Mahoney—who is a Junior this year—said she admires the way the junior high and high school team maintained motivation and grew together, despite the travel restrictions and lack of team-building activities.
"We have a very small team," said Mahoney. "So we're very tightly knit. And I've noticed that people have tried to bond more this year because we haven't been able to do as much. We're not traveling together, which is a huge team bonding experience."
And while the swimmers were only competing against one another and themselves in Friday's event, both Mahoney and fellow captain Bao Be said they both achieved new personal records.
Lane said this event was a practice run for a community meet, where a certain number of community members will be able to come and compete against the high school team. It's an event that Be and Mahoney both look forward to.
"Community meets mean a lot for us because when the plane crashed last year, with the Cordova team on board, they weren't able to swim," said Mahoney. "So all the community came through—the wrestling team, everybody, and they all swam in it. And it was one of the best meets I've ever had. It's one of my highlights. It's my favorite meet we've ever had."
Be said anyone, from parents to alumni, can swim in the meet. And while the team can't travel this year or even simply cheer for one another at meets, Be said he's keeping his head up.
"Even though it's my senior year and everything, I want to be here for the team, be here swimming, and keep everyone motivated—maybe break some records," he said.
Lane said she is currently working on getting a mitigation plan for a community meet approved by both the city and the school.