A Deep Dive Into the Williamsville East Girls Swim Team

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Source: ajarmedia

By Pen Fang and Jessica Dennehy

The Williamsville East Girls Swim Team celebrated their final victory as a full team against Williamsville South in their last dual meet (which also doubled as the senior meet) of the season on October 10, carrying the team to an undefeated season. The meet was undoubtedly emotional, but as Head Coach Chris Miller says, “The best swims are the emotional ones.” With that, let’s dive deeper into what made the Williamsville East Girls Swim Team shine so bright. 

This year, the team has swam against the likes of Starpoint, Lockport, Clarence, and Amherst, with each victory helping kick off their championship season sitting first in Division and Class and second in the Section. 

There have been many memorable moments across the dual meet season. One particular meet saw the team defending their then-number one spot in the Section against then-number two: Clarence. The team stepped up to the blocks, crushing Clarence (during their homecoming week) in both spirit and speed. With the help of some power-play consisting of a team rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby”  that bolstered mood and unity, along with a helpful pair of red pom-poms, East emerged victorious 114 – 68. With everyone rising up to the occasion, many achieved personal bests in their events and qualified for ECICs, Class B, Sectionals, and even States. 

Beside laboring together for multiple hours together every week, another unifier of the team is the love of music (as demonstrated at Clarence). From group renditions of songs on the bus home from meets, such as “Umbrella” by Rihanna and the iconic riff from “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd, to jamming out at practices or sharing playlists at meets, singing and music have been ways for the team to bond (and also instill fear in other teams). There is also a general love for Taylor Swift. In August, the team even had a Taylor Swift Eras Tour themed practice complete with Taylor Swift themed outfits, decorations, and accompanying songs. 

Practices are an opportunity for both improvement and team bonding. The team has had “Backstroke Clinics,” where East’s swim veterans carefully instruct starts and underwaters to the swimmers eager to improve and succeed. Sometimes, swimmers will form circles underwater or just joke around in general in between hard sets. The motivational phrase, “Work it like you twerk it,” has been thrown around in more than one instance. The walls of the pool deck are lined with posters listing goals and encouraging quotes. 

The environment of support bleeds through every aspect — including the coaching team, which is led by Head Coach Chris Miller, known to the team as Coach Chris (or just Chris), who is joined with Coach Lindsay DeBoth in her second year of coaching for the team, and two new faces: Coach Brandon Garcia and Coach Jess Shine. 

Coach Chris Miller is an East alum and former record holder. At the time of his start at East, the Girls’ Team had an open coaching position. Encouraged by a former coach from his club days and excited to try something new, Miller initially started coaching to help pay for graduate school. Though he started with the intention to try coaching as a placeholder for employment, he ultimately picked his career around coaching. Miller is a physical therapist contracting for the Ken-Ton School District and works with kids with developmental disabilities.

He has two favorite things about coaching. One is championship meet season. He explains, “There’s something about championship season that leaves you wanting to come back for more.” The other is trying to leave the same impact on the team that he was left with when he swam for the team.

“If I can have three kids leave this program feeling the same way about high school swimming that I did, then I know I did my job. To put that feeling into words… included: Valued. Seen. Having accomplished something that you never thought you could, and like you really had a place you belonged.” He adds that trying to convince everybody they’re good enough and capable despite the challenges they face is the most challenging thing about coaching. 

He values family the most, citing being a dad as his greatest accomplishment, which carries over to the environment created on the pool deck. What makes him happiest about the team is the inclusive, supportive culture and “that [the team members] really do genuinely enjoy being with each other,” which bring people back consistently and make large rosters, such as this year’s of over thirty members, possible. 

Outside of swim, Miller also enjoys reading. His top three books are The Poet by Michael Connelly, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. 

“When I leave the pool deck,” he says, “I want to be remembered as somebody who left the place better than how he found it.”

Coach Brandon Garcia, one of the two new coaches, is a senior at Buffalo State University majoring in special education. During his high school years, he swam for Kenmore West.

“My first few years we were Kenmore West,” he explains. “Then we combined with Kenmore East, and it was an awesome, great time. That’s why I continued coaching, why I continued swimming.”

He has also coached the Tonawanda Titans for a few years, which turned out to be the gateway to his journey at East; both Garcia and DeBoth are Buffalo State students and Titans coaches. Following DeBoth’s start at East, Miller also reached out to Garcia about coaching. 

“In the training aspect, I learned to know things that not only worked in the past, but what everyone needs individually, and making sure what I learned can be applied to others,” he says. “My forte is technique work. I’ve had shoulder injuries from improper form in the past. I threw out my shoulder doing freestyle.”

He plans on coaching again, though he acknowledges his student teaching plans may interfere with it. 

“I’m really happy to be given this opportunity,” he says. “This is opening a door for me, starting a different chapter, finishing up a career for high school coaching. Being here is so amazing. It’s so much fun getting to know people, with this tight community and big team.”

Garcia’s favorite part of coaching is seeing everyone’s improvement through the years, and how much they change and grow. His pet peeve? “When you jump in during Backstroke and grab onto the bar or side. Injury nightmare.”

Coach Jess Shine, the second new coach, is an East alum of the class of 2019, and the current record-holder in the 100 Fly. She has just graduated from Siena College with a psychology and health studies major and a sociology minor, though she has retired from competitive swim. She is taking a gap year before pursuing a masters degree in mental health counseling. 

Shine explains that she returned, “Because Chris was the best coach and best mentor I ever had, and he did so much for me. And I wanted to be a part of that. It impacted my life far outside the pool.” Reflecting on the past, she said that it was weird to be back seeing that nothing has changed in the school, but so much has changed for her personally. She also admits, “I have had experiences that weren’t necessarily positive, and I want to make it better for you guys.” 

“It is humbling and extremely rewarding that her experience on this program and pool deck would be such that she would want to come back and coach,” Miller says in response to her return. “It is exactly what you’d hope for as a coach.”

Shine’s favorite part of coaching is working with Coach Miller, and her pet peeve is people who don’t wait the allotted five seconds after the swimmer in front has pushed off the wall and run into the swimmer in front. 

“I plan on being here for a good, long time,” she adds.

As aforementioned, Coach Lindsay DeBoth returns to the deck this year as well. She is also a senior at Buffalo State College, studying to become dual-certified in early childhood education and exceptional education with a bilingual extension in Spanish. 

“I enjoy swimming as well as coaching because of all the friendships and relationships I have built along the way,” she states, “as well as the lessons taught throughout the sport such as resilience, goal setting, the importance of a positive mental attitude.”

DeBoth has revived the team building traditions she brought to the deck last year, such as the big/littles system, and also built more, such as the swimmers of the meet award. 

Throughout the course of the season, Big Sisters and Little Sisters, a “friendly competition” in the team takes place. More experienced upperclassmen get partnered with an underclassman or two and get to show them the “lane-lines” through a variety of different team building activities. There are a series of spirit competitions that the swim siblings have to work together for, like pre-meet playlists and outfit-coordinating, that earn spirit points for the duo. At the end of the season, awards are given out to the pair with the most spirit points.

“Bigs, you have your Littles? Littles, you have your bigs? Let’s kick butt or something.” 

Swimmers of the meet, a brand-new occurrence beginning only this year, celebrates four-to-five swimmers who swam above and beyond at each meet, allowing their impressive feats to get publicly cheered and celebrated — and earns them candy. Usually the candy is caught when given, but there have been some near-miss experiences, such as when a swimmer was assaulted with a projectile weapon that was later determined to be a large pack of Twizzlers. 

The sugar-turned-projectile-weapon ceremony is usually followed with some variation of, “Do your weird cheer so we can shake hands and leave.” Another excellent unifying opportunity: screaming at the top of your lungs in tandem with the rest of the team. Common cheers including the classic “peanut butter, peanut butter, crunch, crunch, crunch/we think your team’s a mighty fine bunch” and “Colgate, Colgate, toothpaste, Crest/we think your team is the best,” both traditions laid down from previous years. There have also been some new ones, such as, “PUMP PUMP PUMP IT UP/P-U-M-P PUMP IT UP!” Of course, the East Girls Swim’s cheers would not be complete without the distinct “Whoo!” accompanied by a finger twirl. All in all, it’s a good time.

Together, the swimmers and coaches contribute to create a safe space on the pool deck, which Miller describes as a sanctuary. One senior remarked, “There’s just this environment of support, and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.” In fact, all five graduating swimmers remarked on their final dual meet that the best part of swimming on the team was the team itself: the people, the teamwork, and the experiences that will linger far beyond the confines of the pool. It’s just not the personal bests and the time drops that will be remembered by all those who competed this year, but the friendships made along the way.