You’re more likely to find tadpoles than fully-fledged frogs in the Eau Claire Memorial swimming pool these days — metaphorically speaking, of course.
The Old Abes girls swimming and diving team has an influx of youth this fall, offsetting a particularly low number of seniors. Just four of the Old Abes’ 40 athletes are seniors. For comparison, 16 are freshmen and nine are sophomores.
It’s not a group that can rely much on past history in a Memorial suit, but what the Abes lack in experience they make up for in attitude.
“They’ve been very accepting to the new ones that come in with not as much experience, and have kind of taken the newbies on to help build a team,” Memorial coach Barb Redman said. “They’re all aware it’s not just one person. It takes a group, and I think they all own that.”
The few seniors are in the interesting position of being a small minority of the team, but they haven’t been fazed by it at all.
“We really are using the season to be leaders of the team, and being a positive role model for the underclassmen,” senior Megan Pankratz said.
Leah Gietman, Olivia Gray and Carrigan Heinz are the only other seniors on the Old Abes roster.
Memorial finished second at the Big Rivers Conference meet last year, and went 3-3 in duals. The Old Abes sent two divers to the state meet, but no swimmers. Relatively speaking, it was a rare down year in the pool for Memorial, which has been one of the most dominant programs in the area over the last few decades.
“Last year, we really had to deal with the attitude of, ‘What is it like to lose?’ So we really focused our entire season last year on setting personal goals and team goals,” Redman said. “So many look at losing at the beginning as a negative, but I try to use it to motivate them because they’re setting their own goals from there.”
Gretchen Hanson was one of those two divers who made it to state, and she’s the one the Old Abes have back this year. She took 14th in diving at state as a sophomore. Olivia Pasch also went to state in diving, and she now competes at UW-Green Bay.
Despite the large number of underclassmen, Memorial still has a solid group of experienced swimmers coming back.
Kate Augustyne was a second-team all-conference pick specializing in the 500-yard freestyle. Nicole Vierbicher also swam the 500 freestyle, and was an honorable mention on the all-conference teams thanks to her third-place finish in the race at the conference meet.
Memorial’s 400-yard freestyle relay team of Pankratz, Augustyne, Vierbicher and Kiersten Wille also got honorable mention all-conference recognition.
“We push each other to try to be the best. We work a lot. We put in a lot of hours in the pool, and out of the pool we do a lot of dry-land conditioning,” Pankratz said.
And of course, the underclassmen aren’t completely new to the pool either. Many spent time swimming together at the youth levels prior to heading to Memorial.
“It’s really good seeing all the different swim backgrounds. They all come from different age levels and skill levels for how long they’ve been swimming,” Pankratz said of the young swimmers. “They all really work hard together, and they have really good team spirit.”
Diving has been one of the team’s greatest strengths as of late, but no Memorial swimmer has reached the state meet since 2014.
There will be no shortage of motivation for Memorial this season, as the Old Abes look to rebound from last year’s dual record.
“Last year, they finally realized losing isn’t always a bad thing. It motivated them, and helped them set better goals for this year,” Redman said.