Swimming season on hold for now

  • After finishing second in the girls state swimming and diving meet, St. Charles North was the 2020 boys state champions.

    After finishing second in the girls state swimming and diving meet, St. Charles North was the 2020 boys state champions. COURTESY OF ROB ROONEY

  • St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney holds the 2020 state championship trophy at the IHSA state boys swimming finals in Evanston.

      St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney holds the 2020 state championship trophy at the IHSA state boys swimming finals in Evanston. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/23/2020 1:37 PM

Rob Rooney spent his fall coaching the St. Charles North girls swimming team, and like every other year he hoped to spend Thanksgiving week transitioning into the boys season.

Of course, 2020 is not like any other year.

 

With the boys swimming season, like every other winter sport currently on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rooney isn't sure when his North Stars -- the two-time defending state champions -- will be back in the pool.

"I just want to be back with the boys," Rooney said. "I really enjoyed the fall with the girls. I told the boys I need you guys as much as you need me to have a sense of normalcy. It's hard as a coach right now not to be around the kids you like to be with. Especially this time of year. Thanksgiving to me is always about training and getting the boys going and having a mission set forth."

Like the rest of the state's swimming teams, Neuqua Valley practiced from Nov. 16-19 before the IHSA announced the pause in the season.

Wildcats coach Chad Allen is waiting to see when swimming resumes, and doing it without having to move to a spring or summer season.

"There hasn't been much talk yet of moving seasons," Allen said. "I think most are optimistic that we will get a season in at some point. We felt the girls season went great, and our boys season would have mirrored the girls in many ways with protocols."

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St. Charles North completed the girls swimming season this fall with several new protocols that included only 18 swimmers in the facility.

Rooney hoped something similar would work for the boys season. Rising COVID numbers have put that on hold.

"The sport of swimming, the coaches, the athletic directors, the student-athletes and the parents across the state and everyone I have spoken to have done an admirable job of showing high school sports and indoor sports can happen," Rooney said. "The safety protocols that have been installed from our district from our top administration down, the limited numbers in the pool, we followed that and it really worked out well. It kept the kids safe, it kept the coaches safe and it gave the kids an opportunity. Was kind of hoping to get that kind of opportunity for the boys because I think we could have done it."

Stevenson coach Doug Lillydahl also kept a close eye on how the girls season played out.

While there were a couple bumps in the road, he felt it was an overall success.

"I think they worried quite a bit throughout the entire season that they were about to be shut down, and that detracted from the experience somewhat," Lillydahl said. "I would say the girls season was quite a success, they were able to practice and compete uninterrupted but with understandable accommodations and adjustments to our normal routines. We took great encouragement from their success, but now of course we're the ones with the break."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Having a swimming season put on hold causes complications that other sports don't face.

It's especially true for athletes trying to stay in shape.

"Swimming is not like cross country where you can just go on the road and start running," Rooney said. "My kids are on their own. I can't tell them what to do or where to go. They have to go back to club swimming or handle it on their own. They have to do what's safe for them and what their families feel is right. Everyone has a different opinion."

Lillydahl is holding daily Zoom meetings with his team focused on dryland workouts. Last Saturday he split his team in small groups throughout the football stadium for various workouts.

"It is a far cry from what we hoped to be doing in the water right now, but it's better than nothing," Lillydahl said.

The entire swimming community is waiting to see when the season resumes. The IHSA has two meetings coming in December, but it's going to take a reduction in COVID numbers before any thought of resuming indoor sports returns.

"I think it will take the IHSA quite some time to figure out how to move forward, but if the COVID metrics in our area continue to trend flat or downward, I am hopeful we will resume the season that we are in," Lillydahl said.

"I think the IHSA should just relax," Rooney said. "Kids are going to get their opportunities. It's just not going to be as long. If everyone is patient we just have to get through this mitigation phase three and once that changes we'll move forward. That's my opinion but everyone has their own opinions. I just think we need to be patient. Someone is going to say go, hopefully sooner than later."

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