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Pre-season madness

Elise Gao '26

Dec 8, 2023

The end of the fall term was busy for athletes as they had to juggle final exams with preseason for winter sports. After testing, athletes headed to their respective sports—boys and girls basketball, boys and girls squash, swimming and diving, track and field, and wrestling—to prepare for the upcoming season.

Many athletes had a hard time re-adjusting. Swimmer Rhiannon Myhre ’25 remarked, “I would say the biggest challenges were getting back into the pool after being away for the summer, and getting back to the routine of swimming six days, [on top of] schoolwork, and social life, and everything like that.” Basketball player Lilly Killinger ’26 agreed: “I think everyone is kind of a little bit rusty and just trying to get back into the groove of things.” 

For some sports, strength and conditioning was the focus of preseason. Runner Bella Levina ’25 noted, “One of the most important things is cardio and being able to run. So even people who did field events were running. In addition to that, we went to the weight room, and spoke to [strength coach Brian] Canida; he explained to us how to work with weights,” Wrestler Hayden Shirk ‘24 explained. “[We worked] on a little conditioning too, got that off our chest, just getting ready to hit the ground running once the real season starts.”

The track and field team faced the challenges of accommodating athletes of varying skills. Head coach Betsy Cunningham said, “Probably the biggest challenge is that, with track and field, you have so many different events. So you have high jump, pole vault, and long jump, and triple jump, and sprints, and hurdles, and distance. So that’s kind of our biggest challenge–just making sure all of our kids get the opportunity to work with the right coaches.” 

The boys basketball team even used the time before the Thanksgiving holiday as well as part of the break to start focusing on team bonding and game experience. Head coach Sean Crocker said, “We played two games as we headed into Thanksgiving break down at St. James and those went pretty well. I think we went through some growing pains in the fall, especially with the new guys in playing pickup, but I think that we’ve come together as a group since then. I like the dynamic a lot.”

Similarly, swimmers and divers settled into their respective team dynamics. Swimmer Quinn Larkin ‘25 said, “I feel like we’ve all become brothers and sisters–this team is a family.” 

The new divers began settling in and learning the ropes alongside more seasoned athletes. Boys captain Alex Van Ess ’24 said, “We got our basics back down for the divers that are returning. We just eased into it. The new divers were learning the basics.” Girls captain Eliana Sandy ’24 added, “I think the team dynamic this year, so far, is great from what I’m seeing. You know, there is a lot of camaraderie–a lot of joking. Diving is always kind of a chill sport.”

Year-long squash players began training at the beginning of the school year. Player Ana Botello Gaytan ’25 said, “We started training on the first day of school. We started training only during the afternoon, and then we began to train in the mornings also.” Head coach Dominic Benacquista commented, “They’ve just generally been preparing the whole time as they’re playing tournaments all around the country.” 

The rest of the squash players’ priority was to make the team. Benacquista said, “We had tryouts for a couple of days, and then I think there were only three or four practices before we went onto Thanksgiving break–it was a pretty quick turnaround.” 

Behaquista alluded to the numerous holidays that disrupt the winter sports eason. Head diving coach Frank Betkowski expressed similar sentiments: “The biggest challenge for, I think, any winter sport, is that we have a preseason, and then Thanksgiving, and then we have three weeks of practice, and then we have Christmas, and then we come back. So our season is interrupted twice by a long break.” 

Despite the challenges during the preseason, athletes and coaches pulled through, and the teams are looking forward to the winter season with a glint of ambition in their eyes. 

Betkowski said, “Well the goal for diving is the same as the goal for swimming–we’re focusing on Easterns. So, even in November when we start, my competitive divers are looking to the end of February to try to score as best they can at Easterns. They’ll have a lot of other competitions on the way that will allow them to gauge their progress, but their goal is to score as high as we can in Easterns.” 

Cunningham added, “Ideally, we win MAPLs—that’s always the goal—but I want to see a lot of improvement within each of my athletes throughout the course of the year; and that’s what’s the most important thing.” 

Basketball player Bryson Brown ’24 said, “Our goal for our season is to try to win all our games and work together as a team.” Killinger added, "I think the team’s goals for this year is to win this tournament that we’re playing in this weekend and just do well in MAPLs again because we’re a good team, so we want to do well.” 

Some talented athletes are aiming even higher. Wrestler Amon Yamamoto ’26 said, “My goal is to place at Nationals this year. Last year, I almost placed at Nationals, and this year, I’m pretty confident that I will.” Squash players Gaytan and Huzaifa Ibrahim ’24 are looking to step into international spotlights. Ibrahim said that his goal is “to win the U.S. Junior, which is happening in fifteen days. [It] is the third biggest tournament in the world, so it’d be great if I win that. And worlds.” Gaytan said that her goal is to “have a good place in the US Open and win the nationals in Mexico.” 

Every team, player, and coach pursues different goals for the winter season, but they are all looking forward to having fun. Hayden Shirk ’23 said, “My goal personally is just to have fun. This is my last year; I’m not wrestling in college, so [I’ll] just try to enjoy it for what it is, get the most out of it, [and] spend time with friends.” 

Myhre ended by saying, “I think my overall goal is to make myself happy, make myself proud of what I do, and leave the water knowing I did everything I possibly could to get to where I am. I don’t want to have any regrets.”

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