When success hinges on numerous underclassmen, not to mention a few eighth-graders, there could be reason for concern for a high school athletic program.
That’s the situation the Dominican swim team faced last season. But the girls not only met the challenge, they probably exceeded it.
Dominican placed second at the Greater New Orleans High School Swim League Metro Championships last year, and the team finished third at the Division I state championships a few weeks later. In both meets, they were a few dozen points behind Mandeville (341/2 at Metro), and 35 points behind the runner-up Skippers at the state meet.
The achievements were not completely unexpected, but perhaps a year or two before schedule. Dominican didn’t let its youth keep them from swimming well against perennial powers such as Mandeville and St. Joseph’s Academy, which won the Division I state meet.
Dominican coach Bret Hanemann said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s success in 2014.
“I think we graduated two seniors last year, and I think we only have two again this year,” he said. “So this is still a young team, a real young team. But they’re pretty experienced swimming year round. They’re strong. So I don’t know if I was surprised. … We have 22 girls on this team who are committed. And they’ve earned their way.”
Brie Perry, a senior and co-captain, said Dominican set the bar high for itself last year. Perry, who excels in the backstroke and individual medley, said the squad can get better, given there is plenty time to grow and improve.
“We can be as good as we were (last year), if we work hard and set our goals high,” Perry said. “We can achieve anything if we do that.”
That hard work, as it does for most top swimmers, involves “pulling doubles,” which means waking at 4 a.m. before school to swim for two hours, then swimming for another two-plus hours in the afternoon.
Hanemann said he has no problem getting his girls enthusiastic about such workouts.
“We want (to win), and we want it badly,” she said. “So, we’re going to do the work ourselves.”
Having leaders such as Perry, and fellow senior captain Katherine Hamilton, is important in setting a model for younger swimmers, Hanemann said. Freshman Hannah Morris, who turned heads as an eighth- grader last year, particularly in freestyle events, said older swimmers such as Perry aided her transition to the varsity.
“I didn’t really know what to expect last year, but once I did it, it was great,” Morris said. “It was a bit intimidating at first. But I just stuck with the team and did whatever they needed me to do.”
Emma McMahon was another of Dominican’s dynamic duo of eighth-graders last season. She said she has no expectations this year, other than to continue improving in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard IM — her strongest events.
“We just have to do our best and keep training,” she said.
Kaylin Smith, a junior who Hanemann described “as a driver and leader” of the Dominican program, said last year’s success was satisfying. But she hinted Dominican can improve at metro and state if the team stays dedicated.
“It’s the same thing as last year,” she said. “You work hard in practice; you swim hard in meets. You hope for the best. …Honestly (where we finish) is a wild card. We don’t know (what other teams will do). But we’ll do our best, and we’ll see where we stand.”
Wherever that is, Hanemann said his team won’t surprise anyone this year. He said swimmers such as Emily Wilson, Brie Duhe’, Catherine Carr, and Morgan Gunnels will only help his team.
“We can’t surprise anyone,” he said. “I mean, I like to go about our business and practice hard and let the results land where they may. But I guess we’re on the radar. I think we’ll handle it well. … It’s a good group of girls.”