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The Pioneer

The Pioneer

Diving Deeper into the WOHS Swim Team

Swim teams enjoy a team dinner before counties.
@wohsswimdive
Swim teams enjoy a team dinner before counties.

At West Orange High School, sports culture is popular amongst our aspiring students. But often missed among the hype of Friday Night Lights football games and roaring crowds for the soccer counties is the excitement and resilience that the swim team comprises. 

With the girl’s and boys’ swim teams halfway through their season, we highlight the team’s insights from the 2023 Winter Sports Media Day press interview. The Pioneer Staff and WOHS Sports Media interviewed Head Coach Kayla Negron, Assistant Coach Ford, Girls’ Co-Captains Kazuri Lateef and Joanna Rubinstein, and Boys Co-Captain Michael Greco. 

“Shaking the Rust Off” – Prepping for a season

“I feel like every new season is like getting a new pair of shoes,” explained Greco, “like there’s a couple of days that you have to break them in, and it’s not gonna be very fun, but once you get them in, then you’re back in your old shape, and you can continually improve.” 

In more conventional sports such as basketball, football, or lacrosse, off-season training is practical. Whether it is lifting in the gym or doing individual drills to improve speed or skills, practice possibilities are endless. 

“The only thing that maybe matches up [to swimming], cause it’s a full body workout, is running, but even then you’re just using your legs,” said Rubinstein. And even though swimmers like Lateef mention swimming laps at public pools like the YMCA or participating on club teams for swim or other sports, “…there’s nothing that compares to being in the water,” noted Coach Negron. 

So, the swim teams learn to adapt and discipline themselves to make the most progress within the nine practices prior to their first meets. “And they’re all ‘shaking the rust off’ within the first week,” observed the head coach. The long periods without practicing for the majority can lead the athletes to face mental blocks or intense body aches. “But I think it’s a good sore, and that’s the week that humbles everyone, that reminds them that you have to put the work in.” 

Mental Toughness

Swimming is not an easy sport. For the WOHS swimmers, mental aspects challenge these athletes, whether it is before, during, or after a meet or even in practice. “When you’re about to swim a really hard event, you have to be like, “Okay, my body can do this” inquired Lateef. “But if you don’t prep yourself mentally, then the race is over.”

Therefore, each swimmer has their own unique routine, whether that’s listening to music or podcasts, needing a pep talk, or collecting their thoughts in silence, all to strategies to strengthen their minds. 

“I always try to go into every race with a really positive mindset; no negativity,” Lateef emphasizes the necessity of surrounding yourself with the most positive energy for challenging tasks. 

Swimming involves “…competing against yourself while competing for a team,” so swimmers like Greco remind themselves that even in situations where they came in last place, yet they still improved their personal record, it is still a valid win to take pride in, demonstrating the importance of individual confidence. 

He notes that “….you can still take it [improved scores] home at the end of the day [knowing] that you tried your hardest and that you’ve proved yourself…” and that the next step is to know “…you can still improve for next time so you can help out the team.” 

Rubinstein emphasizes how a strong, supportive team like West Orange plays a major role in a good race. Even when you need to convince yourself that you can do it, “…your team is behind the blocks with you, cheering before you even start, especially for relays (where four people swim), so people are cheering you [on]. You can hear it in the water as well so that helps a lot.” 

And differentiating between beating one PR versus coming out in the lowest place for your team is “…where the coaching staff comes in,” said Negron, “… there’s a lot of strategy that goes when we make lineups.” The coaches work hard to place swimmers in events suitable to each person, both knowing they can keep up with their PR and their performance for the team. 

“The season won’t stop because of a loss…you don’t get a chance to do a meet over, but you have a chance to [prepare for the next meet],” said Greco. 

“…whether it was your best meet, or maybe you feel like it was your worst, there’s always room to grow,” the coaches strive for this mentality to stick amongst all their athletes, “but at the same time also acknowledging every single accolade and achievement,” said Negron. At the same time, there’s got to be a balance. That’s why everyone can handle the losses in a good way. I see them as lessons, not losses.”

Defining/Demonstrating the “Student” in Student-Athlete

As the high school does not have its own pool, the team commutes after school to NJIT.  Despite the appreciation for the college’s swim instructors and beautiful facilities, this commute still requires long hours and a lot of dedication. However, with the team proudly having the highest cumulative GPAs amongst other WOHS athletic programs, the swimmers offered their insights on how they keep up with both the student and the athlete’s responsibilities. 

Negron: We used to have practice right after school, but now that the pool has moved our time slot down, it’s a blessing in disguise.

Rubinstein: [So] we’re very academically focused first. We practice a little later in the day so we do a study hall after school to get all our work done. That’s really helpful because we can get most of our homework done, see teachers, and do whatever we need to do before the pool. 

Coach Negron mentions how the athletes also work together to help tutor one another and solve problems, demonstrating the team’s chemistry and resilience overall.

COME SEE THE SWIM TEAM

When asked if frustrations fly amongst the team with the lack of school presence, the athletes maturely explained how the commute impacts the team’s visibility. 

Greco: I feel like it kind of plays into the background. Not many people know that this swim team exists. So I feel like our numbers have been increasing, but they can be increased even more if people knew that there was a swim team, so we kind of miss out a little bit on that. 

With this in mind, the coaches are working on promoting more than ever on social media. “Things as simple as posting on the stories, I think that’s the biggest way to get in touch with everyone,” mentioned Negron. “I feel like the visibility is helpful for the swim team overall.”

But still, Negron mentions how “…sometimes it is frustrating [lack of knowledge of the swim team], but not because of recognition for us, as a program, it’s because … the school is missing out on seeing the swimmers.” 

Lateef mentioned the synergy of her teammates, whether it is competing or even at practice, Negron inquiring that “West Orange swimming is exceptional at building each other up, and we do have an unparalleled energy when we’re on the day. Every single swimmer is cheering for each other down to the last swimmer that finishes, even if they’re on the other team.”  

With that in mind, The Pioneer wishes that more West Orange residents will acknowledge the swim team and their amazing energy. “… if you could get a chance to come to a meet, and hopefully everybody does come this year, you will see how lively things are on our side of the pool,” said Negron wishfully. 

With the season only halfway through, you can see the team’s schedule and locations posted on their social media @wohsswim and the WOHS Sports Media website. 

“So hopefully, we’ll get some people out there and have everyone be able to see the hard work and how amazing the swim teams are,” concluded Negron.

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