University City

Vance High swimming takes first baby steps

The co-ed swim team at Vance High School is not competitive in the traditional sense.

Collectively, the Cougars may make it to two wins this year.

That said, measuring the team’s success in this coming season in terms of wins and losses would be equivalent to diving in the shallow end.

Of the 21 swimmers – five boys and 16 girls – on the Cougars’ roster, four had competitive experience entering the year, while eight simply hoped to learn to swim.

“The most common thing I heard at the beginning of this season was students saying, ‘I have no idea how to swim! I’m just going to drown!’” said assistant coach Sarah Rush.

“It’s been eye-opening. I started coaching when I was 16, and this is my first experience with so many non-swimmers. I was kind of used to teaching very little kids how to swim. If you were above the age of 10 it was just teaching some technique. This has been my first experience with kids this age that had no clue how to swim.”

Glen Blafield, 60, along with Rush, took over the Vance swimming program last season, when it had just 14 swimmers.

Blafield, who has a master’s degree in physical education, began teaching swimming, lifeguarding and canoeing when he was 25 years old.

“Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” he said. “Some coaches, they don’t have to teach. I do, but to me, that makes it 10 times more rewarding to see the kids be successful.”

Assisting Rush and Blafield early this season has been senior captain Evelyn Munoz, who began swimming with the two coaches during her junior year.

For the less experienced swimmers on the team, Munoz – who swims the freestyle and backstroke – is the go-to girl when the coaches are busy helping someone else.

“Since it is just Glen and I, we can’t really give our full attention to just one person,” Rush said. “(Munoz has) been really good at motivating and helping the new swimmers learn how to dive and answering their questions about what to expect at meets.”

Munoz’s willingness to lend a hand has become contagious these past two seasons.

“That’s probably what our team is best at: having the advanced swimmers teaching the younger ones what to do,” said Rush, who swam competitively from ages 5 to 18.

A sophomore transfer, Cierra “CC” Larsen, may represent the Cougars’ best hope at having a girl qualify for the regionals this season. Her presence and ability to swim in any event have already helped Rush and Blafield considerably.

On the boys’ side, sophomore James Hendley has shown versatility and potential as well.

“I was nervous coming into this year, wondering if we would have anyone with experience,” Rush said. “It’s been nice having a couple.”

For a lot of swimmers who spent their first week of practice latched to the side of the pool, this season has already been a success.

“To me, I’ve been more successful than the other coaches that win state championships,” Blafield said. “They get swimmers that train year round. I get swimmers who I teach to swim. Then, at the end of the year I encourage them to get their life-guarding certificate, and all of a sudden they have a job during the summer.

“To me, I’m 10 times more successful than the other coaches, simply because those kids have learned a lifelong skill.”

Lily Castillo began her swimming career at Vance needing 1 minute 30 seconds to swim 50 meters.

In last week’s dual-team meet with North Mecklenburg and West Charlotte (the Cougars’ first meet of the season), Castillo competed in the 200-yard freestyle for the very first time.

People at the meet who are unfamiliar with how much she’s progressed watched in wonder as the junior reached the end of the pool with a smile on her face.

She finished the event in 4 minutes 40 seconds.

“She came in as happy as a lark, because she knows how much she’s improved,” Blafield said. “In competition, is she going to win? No. The other swimmers from North Meck beat her out, but she didn’t care. She knew that her job, her objective, was to finish, and she did.”

Waiting for Castillo at the end of the pool were all 20 remaining members of the Cougars team, many of whom had already finished their races for the day and no longer were required to stay.

Once out of the pool, an exhausted Castillo remained to show her support as well.

“Last night was incredible,” Blafield said. “Here we have our weakest swimmers attempting to swim 50 yards and the rest of the team is down there at the other end of the pool cheering them on. They know that this is a real struggle for the kid, but they’re there rooting them on.

“No one went home early last night.”