An instant success: State qualifier leads new Notre Dame swim program
New sports programs usually have a long learning curve.
Teams don't expect to find immediate success. They expect to struggle, to work for years to try and find some success.
Apparently, that's something no one told the swimmers at Notre Dame.
The Crusaders began their swim program a couple months ago. Now, they already have their first state qualifier after sophomore Frances VanderMeer won the 50 meter at the EFA Invite with a state-qualifying time, and the third fastest time in the state at 24.59.
For VanderMeer, just having the chance to swim for Notre Dame this year is a big thing.
"It's so great, I'm so happy they can make this happen for us," she said.
While swimming for Notre Dame is new for VanderMeer, swimming is something she has been doing most of her life.
"I have been swimming club since I was 7," she said. "I swim club year round."
One of the challenges for VanderMeer was swimming during the club season, but not being able to swim every day in the fall for her school like her club teammates did.
"It was a little hard," she said. "All that extra training that they can get, and I wasn't able to, is hard."
Since last year ended, there were thoughts that Notre Dame would get a swim team.
But, it all came together over the summer.
The girls swim as Notre Dame, but they swim with the Elmira School District team, traveling to the same meets as them and being coached by Elmira coach Jay Sentigar.
"It was up in the air since the end of the school year," VanderMeer said. "But, it was a few weeks before the season that we found out for sure."
With Notre Dame getting swimming, Mansfield's Molly and Catherine Craig made the decision to enroll at the school this year.
Having another talented swimmer like Molly on the team is something that VanderMeer knows will only make her better.
"It's nice, Molly and I have become such good friends," VanderMeer said.
And, swimming with the Elmira girls, and traveling to meets against bigger schools like Horseheads and Ithaca, is something that the girls know most smaller schools don't get to do.
"It pushes me a ton," VanderMeer said. "Ithaca has such a great team, there are so many great swimmers, they make you work harder."
For Catherine Craig being a part of this team is something she really enjoys.
"It's just nice, it's really fun to be with this team," she said.
It has been a big adjustment for Catherine and Molly as they get used to a new school this year.
"It was definitely hard to get used to it, but it's nice," Catherine said.
Going from Mansfield to Notre Dame means swimming against some people in another state that they didn't always compete against in the past.
"It's nice to meet new people," Catherine said.
For Catherine, a seventh-grader, it's nice being able to swim with her freshman sister Molly.
"It's so much fun," she said. "I really enjoy it."
For Notre Dame sophomore Dillan Leonard, there was club swimming in the past, but until Notre Dame got a swim team she thought her days in the sport were over.
"I swam club for modified, middle school," Leonard said. "I was really excited when I found out we would have a team. I didn't think I'd be able to swim anymore because I also play basketball and that's at the same time as club swimming."
While she always enjoyed club swimming, there is something special for Leonard about swimming with her classmates at Notre Dame.
"We have better chemistry than a club team," she said. "We hang out together so much, there is more of a team bonding experience."
For VanderMeer the idea of going to states in the first year that Notre Dame has a program is pretty special.
"I'm so excited, it's going to be so fun and such a great experience," she said. "I am speechless."
VanderMeer also hopes that when people at the school see they have a state qualifier in the sport it will get more people to come out to swim in the future.
"I am so excited to see what happens with this program," VanderMeer said. "I think it (VanderMeer getting to states) will help. I am excited to see more people swim next year."