The ability to compete during the COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult proposition.
It takes a coordinated effort on the part of athletes, coaches and parents to take the necessary precautions to ensure safety.
It takes a fortitude and determination to press forward in spite of potential danger at every turn.
So to not only compete, but thrive and not sustain a single case of coronavirus among an entire athletic program and coaching staff is nothing short of remarkable.
And that is exactly what the Lakeside Aquatics Club has been able to do.
“Early in the pandemic, we had very consistent communication with our families and swimmers and quickly formed a COVID response team that included health professionals as well as Board members,” LAC Operations Manager Candice Saffle said. “To maintain membership, especially during the two-month closure, we switched to fun contests on social media as well as offering financial aid to those who lost their jobs. We continued practices via dry land exercises, yoga instruction and Zoom practices.
“The coaches worked together to do whatever they could to keep the swimmers engaged and in good spirits. We sought out additional pools that allowed us to space out swimmers and provided some outdoor, open air swimming. We continue to update our policies and procedures as the climate has changed over the past year and our coaches and teams have been excellent at proper contact tracing and self-quarantining when required.”
LAC took first place in both Texas State competitions – TAGS (Texas Age Group Championships) and Texas Sectionals (this year called the Speedo Lone Star Invitational) in early March, and head coach Jason Walter said this was quite an accomplishment.
“By winning both these major meets, it shows LAC has both the best age group and senior program in the state of Texas,” Walter said.
TAGS is for 14 and under swimmers and Texas Sectionals is for swimmers 15 and older.
At sectionals, the LAC men’s team was led by Cooper Lucas, who placed first in the 500-yard freestyle, second in the 200 individual medley (IM), and third in the 200 butterfly and 400 IM.
Along with Lucas, the men’s team was supported by Noah Beladi, Andrew Guziec, Conor McKenna, Antonio Romero and Andrew Zettle, who placed first in the 800 Free Relay (4th fastest in the country) and 400 Free Relay (4th fastest in the country).
LAC’s women’s team was led by Julia Wozniak, who finished second in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 Free, along with Wozniak, the women’s team was supported by Riley Francis, Natalie Whalen, Riley Edmundson, Sienna Schellenger and Gwen Smith, who won the 200 Free Relay and finished second in the 400 Medley Relay.
“LAC has been focused on winning this meet for years,” Walter said. “This year and in past meets there are not only Texas teams, but teams from around the country competing. This is the first year we won the meet outright over all other teams.”
LAC was also ranked seventh in the country in the USA Swimming Virtual Club Championships (VCC), the purpose of which is to recognize and highlight clubs that are developing athletes and achieving success at multiple levels in the club swimming continuum, while also emphasizing the team element in club swimming.
“The program scores single age groups from 11-16 years old and has a combined 17-18 age group,” Walter said. “After all eligible swims have been scored using the power point system, a team score for each registered USA Swimming club will be calculated. This is done on a daily basis throughout the season to allow teams from around the country to compete in a Virtual Meet.”
In addition to the success it has enjoyed this season at TAGS, Sectionals and standings in the VCC, Lakeside Aquatic has sent 20 athletes on to compete at the college level, something Walter–who has been with LAC since 2007, and took over as head coach in 2011- finds very satisfying.
“Our coaches are so proud of the hard work and dedication it takes for these swimmers to be able to compete at the collegiate level,” Walter said. “Being able to compete at that level takes hard work and dedication and years of training. Our coaches have been with these kids during some of their highest and lowest moments in the sport. So it makes our coaching staff so proud to see the road to success is never the same and is only reached through tireless dedication and a positive attitude.”
Beyond the accolades and diligence in following COVID-19 prevention protocol this season, the ability to remain focused and in high spirits in spite of the pandemic demonstrates to Saffle a lot about the integrity of LAC athletes and coaches.
“By my observation over the past year, swimmers have demonstrated excellent character,” Saffle said. “Most of our athletes excel in the classroom equally, if not more, as they do in the water. This past year we had nine swimmers recognized as USA Swimming Scholastic All Americans. These are the kind of young adults that do not see a wall in front of them but a hurdle they can overcome.
“They worked harder and rallied together to be successful. When we were shut down, our swimmers sought out water anywhere they could find it. As a matter of fact, my own neighbor is a part of our team, and she came to my house every day to swim laps in my pool.”
LAC offers lessons and runs competitive and non-competitive programs at the LISD Westside Aquatic Center in Lewisville and Northwest ISD Aquatic Center in Justin, among other locations.
Visit www.teamunify.com/team/ntlac/page/home for more information.