Coming off of winter break, the girls’ swim and dive team dove right back into competition at the COMO Invite Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 where the Bruins placed second out of 40 teams. The team had only competed three other times prior to this meet, so team members took advantage of the opportunity to swim fast times and make state cuts, times that will automatically qualify them to compete at state later in their season.
Head coach Taylor Birsa said she believes the girls’ success and impressive individual times will motivate them to work harder to achieve their goals.
“With the holidays happening right before the meet and not having practices on some days and the girls not really resting for this meet, the times that they threw down were phenomenal for right now,” Birsa said. “They performed better than they expected, which is a really nice surprise.”
In preparation for the COMO Invite, senior Riley Jones, who has swum for the team for four years, said the Bruins focused on improving endurance to prevent people from “dying,” or losing energy, halfway through a race. Jones also said Birsa allowed the girls to practice techniques specific to their individual races.
This weekend, Jones competed in two preliminary races, the 100 meter freestyle and the 100 meter breaststroke. Although she dropped time in both of her events, she did not qualify for finals. Still, she went out on Saturday to support her teammates and encourage everyone competing in the finals.
“We really had a lot of fast swimming this weekend. I really liked our performance in the freestyle relays, and I think that everyone’s been really working hard, and we had a lot of people work hard at practice over break,” Jones said. “So I think just getting back into racing and finishing second was definitely probably the highlight [of the COMO Invite] for me.”
Unlike some of junior Ansley Barnes’s teammates, this was her second meet of the season, though it is her third year competing at the COMO Invite. One difference Barnes noted between swimming for a club team and competing at the high school level is that she is able to make friendships she would otherwise have missed out on. Barnes swam prelims and finals for two individual events this weekend, the 200 meter freestyle and the 500 meter freestyle, and two team races, the 200 meter medley relay and the 400 meter freestyle relay.
“I did much better in prelims than I did in finals. I definitely struggled more in finals, but I qualified for state in both of the events that I swam, so I definitely think I’ll do better when I swim them at state,” Barnes said. “And we had good relay swims, so I’m happy with those.”
“Even though the meet was super long on Friday night, the girls stepped up and performed really well. The energy was still there on Saturday afternoon which was great.”
With the loss of three strong senior swimmers from last season, Barnes was unsure going into the meet if the team would do as well as it had last year. Even with this obstacle, Birsa said the team is doing a “great job making a name for themselves this season.” At practice, the team worked on a variety of skills to prepare for the different strokes and distances at the COMO Invite. The girls swam individual medleys, had freestyle days and worked starting from the blocks. Birsa believes “the body needs to rest in order to come back stronger,” so she also gave her girls “rest days” to giver let their minds and bodies take a break.
“I think the fact that we placed the same as we did last year is very impressive,” Barnes said.” I feel like we all kind of stepped up in a way that we hadn’t last year just because we had to now that we lost those people, so I’m very proud of how we did.”
Along with Barnes, sophomores Mara Manion, Olivia Henderson and Elise Henderson set the meet record for the 400 meter freestyle relay during the preliminary competition. Jones said the team broke its own record during the preliminary race to set the meet record, then broke it again during the finals competition. During the finals race, however, another team broke the Bruin’s recently set record by just eight one-hundredths of a second.
Still, both Jones and Barnes consider the outcome of the team’s preliminary and final race a success because of the fast swimming the girls displayed. The times several of the athletes swam qualified them for a variety of state events.
“I think that my favorite thing to do is just — so there’s a lot of girls that didn’t have state cuts coming into this meet, and to watch those girls that didn’t have a state cut get their state cuts for the first time and see how excited they are and happy,” Barnes said. “That was definitely I think the favorite thing of the team as a whole just because it’s so fun.”
The COMO Invite, a two day competition, can be physically and mentally tiring for competitors. Birsa said cheering for teammates and maintaining a high energy level helps to keep swimmers motivated. Still, the team performed at a high caliber over the duration of the meet to lock down their second place ranking.
“For the most part, they improved by either a lot of a little [between prelims and finals], and they moved up spots in finals to grab more points for their team and to improve their state time even more, which helps with where they rank in the state,” Birsa said. “Even though the meet was super long on Friday night, the girls stepped up and performed really well. The energy was still there on Saturday afternoon which was great.”
Even with the team’s recent success, Barnes continues to focus on what she and the rest of the team team can do to improve before state. She believes focusing tiem at practice to improving turns, pacing and underwaters, a technique swimmers use to increase their speed after a turn or a start, would be beneficial for the team.
“There’s a couple girls that are really strong on their underwaters and their turns,” Barnes said, “but I feel like as a majority and as our team as a whole we are not overly strong when it comes to turns and underwaters, which are both such a big component of races, especially when it comes like in short course yards, which is how we swim in high school.”
As the team continues to prepare for upcoming meets and state, Jones remembers not to take the team’s positive and support atmosphere for granted. While she enjoys cheering for her fellow Bruin swimmers, she and the rest of the team encourage and congratulate other Columbia swimmers from Hickman and Battle High School during competitions, too.
With the number of people who made state cuts this weekend, as well those who broke meet records and their own personal records, Jones believes the team is on track for a strong performance at state.
“I think we definitely need to work on some technique stuff. We still need to do endurance. But really it’s just from here being able to finish strong. Cape [Girardeau Invitational] is always a really good meet for us, and Springfield [Invitational], too,” Jones said. “So we just need to get those state cuts and keep moving forward until state, which in the beginning of February.”
In the future, Birsa plans to include more endurance work in practice. At the meet she noticed her girls were tightening up at the end of their races, even though they start off with strong front half speeds. Birsa said the team needs to work on longer distances in practice so each person can have enough energy left to finish the race at a high capacity.
“I hope that they can see they are capable of so much and even if you are tired you can still go fast. I want them to take that and bring it to practice as well,” Birsa said. “Big things can happen. You have to believe and communicate.”
Which girls’ swimming and diving meet are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below.