“Hey Cougs, What Day Is It?”

Championship finalist Maria Trotta swimming the 50 Yard Freestyle at Kennedy.
Championship finalist Maria Trotta swimming the 50 Yard Freestyle at Kennedy.
Sonja Woerner

Anyone who’s watched a Kennedy Girls Swimming and Diving meet is familiar with the team’s call-and-response cheer, initiated by varsity captain Ellie Hance. At the beginning of every dual meet and invite, the girls huddle up and perform a number of cheers, coming together as a team before splitting off to compete in their races.

Swimming seems as though it would be an extremely individual sport, with athletes being separated by physical barriers in the pool. Despite the independent nature of the sports, the girls swimming and diving team manages to form close relationships with their teammates.

When the season begins in early August, girls’ swimmers and divers from Kennedy and Xavier High School plan a weekend trip to one of the larger nearby cities to unite under the title of “Cougars.” The team gets to know the incoming freshmen and bond without being inhibited by the natural separation between Kennedy and Xavier, varsity and junior varsity or swimming and diving.

“There’s a lot of potential for the team to become divided,” Varsity Coach Chad Derlin said. “It’s just such a big group that there are a bunch of cliques that could form, but they all are really great girls and the team trip is a fun way for them to push aside those dividing lines and come together. It’s just a time to connect before we really have to get to work for the season.”

The annual trips have allowed the girls to develop their team-building skills through activities organized by the captains, such as scavenger hunts, escape rooms and a newer tradition implemented three years ago.

“I really love the team trips and the ways we get together during them,” senior Varsity Captain Ellie Hance said. “We’ve started doing lip sync battles, separated by grade level, and because the freshmen come in not really knowing anybody it makes them talk to each other. As you become an upperclassman it gets to be more fun because we’re all really comfortable and get to just go wild with it.”

Throughout August, the girls get back into the sports with their practice groups and build the difficulty of their practice sets. The team finds ways to make practice fun even when most of it takes place underwater.

“We have a couple of things we do during practice,” Hance said. “Like, every Tuesday that we don’t have a swim meet we get to jump off the diving board. It’s just the little stuff. But all of the girls work really hard and sometimes when we have an especially good practice the coaches will do something fun with us.”

As swim meets begin, the most well-known part of the Kennedy Girl Swimming and Diving team is put on display. The cheering.

“Our girls do a great job of cheering their teammates on,” Derlin said. “Of course, we have the cheers we do at the beginning of the meet but other teams have really taken notice of the way the team encourages each other while they’re swimming. There’s always someone at the end of the lane screaming for one of the girls to keep going.”

Even with the pressure to improve and the looming state competition, the girls keep the stressful situation lighthearted by breaking the tension before the first event.

“They always play the national anthem right before the meet starts,” Hance said. “It’s the instrumental version and as a team, we decided it needed a little something more so we’ve started singing along. It sounds ridiculous but we all do it really quietly, so usually only the other team can hear it because they’re on the deck and it always makes them laugh.”

Small moments build up and all of the little things that the girls do together have allowed them to form a cohesive unit.

“It feels like a family,” sophomore Ella Rushton, a JV swimmer who attends Xavier, said. “There’s nothing to bond a group of girls like getting yelled at for breathing. We’re just all so close that it makes everything we do fun, whether it’s practices, swim meets or bus rides because you always have a friend there with you.”

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