The Nerinx Hall swimmers joked and gently jostled with one another along the edge of the pool as they put on their swim caps for a practice Jan. 28 at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis. In the pool, they continued to chatter and smile while stretching.
Their camaraderie transfers to their meets. Nerinx won 122-59 vs. Liberty a few days earlier. And on Jan. 29, the team from the high school in Webster Groves concluded an undefeated season in dual meets witha 110-76 win over St. Joseph’s Academy.
Coach Jenoa Olson is proud of her team. “We have young talent on the team, a lot of girls who swim year-round,” Olson said.
Some of the girls practice between four and seven times a week in the off season with club teams and twice a day during the high school season with both teams, Olson said.
Olson didn’t have to work hard in building team character. “They’re really easy to coach. They work well together. We have a really great team vibe this year,” Olson said.
The swimmers are willing to take on any role. “No one girl is locked into a certain event,” Olson explained, “so they’re willing to let me put them wherever is best for the team.”
Olson is shooting for a conference title (scheduled for Feb. 2 at MICDS) and a top six finish at the state meet. Her players echoed that goal, adding the potential of the medley relay team to make a top three finish at state.
Nerinx won the Cape Girardeau Invitational, with the team’s 200-yard medley relay — a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior — breaking the meet record. Nerinx also came in first at the Ladue Invitational and sixth of 31 teams at the COMO Invite. At Ladue, Nerinx won seven of the 13 events, setting three meet records and four school records.
Isabelle McGuire, a junior, said the Ladue Invitational is where the players started growing closer together. “It went from focusing on individual events to all of us seeing it as a team sport,” she said.
Alexis Schillinger, a senior and team captain, said her role entailed “having everyone root for one another” and helping build “that team mentality because swimming is a lot different than soccer or field hockey where everyone is playing at the same time,” she said.
Schillinger is thankful for her swimming career. “I’ve made lifelong friends, not just at Nerinx,” she said. “I’ve learned to manage my time, work with others in a completely different way, and really work hard for my goals.”
She described Nerinx as “an environment of women doing amazing things and supporting one another.” As athletes, she said, “a lot of us use our faith in our own way, whether it’s a lot or just a little bit. “No matter what happens, our faith is still always there, no matter how well or poorly we do in the pool.”
The players support for one another also comes from some personal losses. Two of the three seniors, Katie Knapp and Isabelle Sanchez, had a parent die in the last two years. Sophomore Emily Traube experienced the same loss last year.
Grace Schaefer, a sophomore, said that the swimmers’ support is unwavering no matter what adversity someone faces. “When something happens, and you feel you’re at your lowest point, it’s really important to come together as a team and be there for that person, whether it be meals or support or being there to talk with someone,” she said. “I feel it’s very important that we have such a great bond with our teammates that we’re able to talk with each other, we’re able to tell each other how we feel. We can just be each other’s support system.”
McGuire said the swimmers support each other in and out of the pool. “It’s great to have such great friends,” she said. “We know they’re always going to be there for you, whether you have a good race or a bad race, a good day or a bad day.”
Schaefer says a quick prayer before races. “It helps keep me grounded. My grandpa had such a strong faith, and it inspired me to take everything with a grain of salt. If I don’t do well, I know I’m still a good athlete and that I’m still a good person. That keeps me content at the end of the day,” Schaefer said.
Meghan Bryan, a junior, said knowing God’s presence helps calm her down before events and gives her a sense of confidence. “It guides me to do better and be a better team member,” she said.
Bryan praised her coaches for their backing. “Good or bad race, they’re always there to say you did an amazing job, that you tried your hardest,” she said.
The coaches also stress that everyone should cheer for each other, “and I think that’s awesome,” Bryan said.
Thoughts from Nerinx Hall High School swimmers about their season:
• Katie Knapp’s favorite memory this season was spending time with her teammates at the COMO Invite.
• Emily Traube said traveling on the bus to Cape Girardeau and the time spent with teammates meant a lot to her.
Madison Colombo said the Cape Girardeau trip was special because it was
an extended one, with the team arriving back home at midnight, about
four hours late.
• Brooke Punnewaert won’t forget the Ladue
Invitational, her first meet, since the team broke the meet record and
qualified for state.
• Grace Schaefer said carpooling with
Isabelle McGuire was a highlight. “It’s really fun being part of a team.
We’re not all individuals.”
• Meghan Bryan recalled the meet at
the University of Missouri-Columbia because the relay team did so well
and she had fun cheering for her teammates.