READING — As the fall season returns to normalcy of some sorts, the Reading High girls swim team aims to embark on its drive for five consecutive Middlesex League titles. .
Finishing the season with an undefeated 7-0 mark during the Fall II campaign, the Lady Rockets also captured the Middlesex League Meet.
For second-year coach Lianne Bradley, conducting virtual meets in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly had its challenges. Now with nearly all restrictions lifted, with the exception of indoor mask wearing, Bradley is thrilled to once again have in-person meets. Currently, the Lady Rockets are preparing for the season by holding practices outdoors at the Meadow Brook pool.
“The team is very excited to be back in the pool and able to carry on a more normal season,’’ said Bradley. “Currently we are practicing outdoors and it is nice to be outside and not be as concerned with social distancing or mixing up the lanes.”
Bradley is not only thrilled to have in-person dual meets back, but is also pleased that the team is able to bond together during the pre-season. As for the post-season, Bradley is still unsure where the sectional and state meets will be held later this season, but is excited that sectional and state meets will be held.
“We are able to get to know each other better even just in the first week,’’ said Bradley. “The girls have been able to do some of their preseason group bonding activities that we weren’t able to happen last year. We are looking forward to having our meets be in person so that we can create a more competitive atmosphere. We are hopeful that we will be able to have a normal championship season.”
In addition to holding in-person dual meets, spectators are also allowed to attend the meets.
“The virtual meets were very challenging last season, and in-person meets create more of a competitive vibe,’’ said Bradley. “As of right now we are allowed to have spectators so that will be exciting too.”
As a result of a shift in pool availability at the Burbank YMCA, the team will be holding its practices in the early morning hours prior to the school day.
“ I think we will be able to adjust, but it is definitely a hurdle we will have to work through,” said Bradley.
With a smaller team to work with this year, Bradley is looking forward to the challenge of breaking in some younger swimmers into the varsity lineup.
Leading the way for the Lady Rockets will be senior tri-captains Ally Kneland, Ciara Keane and Samantha Brabeck. All three of them are versatile and can compete in almost any event. Other returning swimmers include junior Anna Boemer, who competed in the 2020 United States Olympic Trials earlier this summer in Nebraska. Competing in most of the freestyle events and on the relay teams will be junior Elise Verrier.
One special addition to the team will be freshman Delaney Johnson, who will be the first diver for the Lady Rockets since Maddie Doyle, who competed on the squad from 2015-18.
“All three of our captains are coming off a strong finish at the end of last season,’’ said Bradley.
“Boemer had a great season last year, and she’ll focus on the butterfly but is very versatile and can swim in any event. (Elise) Verrier ended last season with some huge time drops and she’ll focus on the freestyle. Delaney Johnson has looked great as a freshman diver, and we have a few other incoming freshmen with club swimming experience.”
With a smaller team than usual, Bradley acknowledges that they’ll be challenges moving forward, but is optimistic that the Lady Rockets will have enough depth to be in position to repeat as Middlesex League champions as well as strong showings in both sectional and state meets.
“I think being a small team will come with advantages and disadvantages,’’ said Bradley. “Of course our depth will be down from what it has been in the past, which is tough for scoring points especially at championship meets. One advantage of a small group is that we can focus on each swimmer and really work to develop their strokes and technique. There will be some tight meets against teams like Winchester and Lexington, and the league meets will be close as well, but I’m confident we’ll be able to hold our own.”
The Lady Rockets open the season on Saturday, Sept. 19 against Watertown-Arlington at the Burbank YMCA.