Gator Nation

Gator Nation

Friday, July 23, 2021

Log Flumes and the Crosspointe A Meet

We covered roller coasters earlier in the season. This week, we're going to focus on the wet cousin of the roller coaster, the log flume, or log "ride" depending on which amusement park you are going to. While I think I've used the term "ride" more frequently in my life, I'm going to stick with "flume" for the blog mostly just because its a fun word and I don't get to use it very often normally. 

Tie Dye. Groovy. 

Let's start with a quick overview on the flumes for those who aren't familiar. A log flume ride is based on the real-life flumes used by lumber companies as they used water to float the logs down the mountains to the sawmills. The rides are meant to simulate those flumes by floating passengers around, and then normally having some drop as a thrill at the end. The more advanced of the modern amusement parks out there have developed varying degrees of entertainment along the "float" part of the rides, while some of the older or budget parks just float the logs around through some trees or fields. 

The floating is fun, but the splash is what its all about. 

Here in Virginia, both of our major theme parks, Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens, have pretty basic log flume rides. Passengers load up in their logs, and then float around through some trees, before a conveyor belt hauls the logs up and then shoots the logs "down the mountain" at the end, with a big splash at the bottom to get everyone wet. (And of course, take the standard theme park photo while the group is sliding down the falls.) 

Florida is that way...

The theme parks in Florida step it up a notch. The floating part of the ride has a lot more going on. For example, Splash Mountain at Disney World has a full animatronic and digital show of Disney's "Song of the South" movie with various scenes highlighting the adventures of Br'er Rabbit. Universal Studios' log flume ride comes in somewhere between the Disney experience and the more basic versions at KD and BG. The Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls at Universal has a fun immersive show, but not quite the same level of choreography and activity of the characters as you float through the scenes. 

I am definitely in the camp that believes the experience is enhanced by the supplemental entertainment along the floats at Disney and Universal. At their core, all the rides pretty much do the same thing: float, go up, splash down. The more immersive rides just provide a little more and that makes the whole experience a ittle better. Which brings us to swim. 

You can't win them all if you don't win the first... Check. 
Quite the day for the 9-10 ladies. 

The log flume rides can serve as a pretty good metaphor for the annual swim cycle. You load up and get on the log at the beginning. In our metaphor, this is September of the swim year when swimmers begin their off season training programs. Then, you float around on the log for what is a pretty long time compared to the actual "payoff" at the end.  And that's how winter swim is: nine months of training, for two quick months of summer excitement. And the level of engagement you get from the ride depends on which park you go to and which ride you take. If you stay here in Virginia, you get the basic ride, still the same thrill at the end, but maybe not quite the same level of engagement. The rides in Virginia represent the Gator winter swim training program or perhaps something like the RECenter swim classes. Good rides, good programs, and they will have a fun finish. The Florida parks, on the other hand cost a bit more. You need to travel there and the tickets are definitely a bit higher priced, but the experience is most definitely more engaging while you are there and you'll probably get a bit more out of it. This is the club swimming experience: NCAP, Ft Belvoir, Machine, etc. All the rides end the same way with a fast drop and everybody getting wet... just like summer swim.. lots of fast drops (of time) and the wet thing.... pretty sure I don't even need to explain that part of the analogy. 

Importantly, if you just go up the hill and then come down, without the float part, you are just on a slide... not a log flume ride. And I'm not trying to say slides are bad. They are fun. But sooner or later, we all want to upgrade from the slides and go on the rides. The excitement and payoff at the end is enhanced by the engagement we experience on the ride.  

Zoom Zoom Saloom. I'm looking forward to next season when 
Jack finally gets to strut his stuff at the TOP of an age group. 
One to watch. 

One of the things about log flume rides, is they are best in the right situations. Usually, that means when the weather is not too cold. The wet part is fun and refreshing in that situation. But when its cold out, the ride doesn't generate the same level of endorphin releasing excitement. It is probably still fun, but you may ask yourself... why did we do that again? Which makes me think about the overall season against some pretty stiff competition this year. Why did we do that again? The weather was a bit chilly to be taking this log flume ride... maybe we should have gone with the old school roller coaster instead. 

Hopefully I haven't scrambled your noodle too much with my analogy. On to the meet versus Crosspointe. One of my favorite Gator t-shirts from a few years back had the quote "Vini. Natavi. Vici." We came. We swam. We conquered. This year's shirt would probably be a bit more "Vini. Vidi. Natavi." We came. We saw. We swam. Still good... just no conquering. The 2021 dual meets have come to an end and we ended up without a victory for the first time in a long time. But we still had lots of fun and did lots of exciting things... no matter which log ride you're on, and no matter what the weather is, the drop at the end is still going to give some thrills. And thrills we found. 

Thrill #1: Lincoln Jetton making a run at a perfect season and just getting edged out in the Freestyle race. I don't normally highlight races when our Gators don't finish on top, but this was a great season for Lincoln and he ended up winning the Breaststroke resulting in a regular season record of 9-1 to lead the Gators in individual races. He swam 10 individual races and won nine times (and still ended up in the points on the 10th one). That's quite a season. Nice going Lincoln. 

13-14 Boys finishing off a great season with one final 
Medley Relay victory.

Thrill #2: 13-14 Boys bringing home their third "Clean Sweep" of the year in the Freestyle race to lead the Gators in that category. Congrats to Alex North, Gavin Fore, and George Schulte on earning all nine points in the race. The Race of the Week usually goes to one of the closest wins of the day, but on this particular day this Sweep generated the most thrill and excitement, so it gets the honor. 

Kate earning her share of those 33 points for the 9-10 girls.

Thrill #3: The 9-10 girls putting two swimmers "on the podium" in every single event on the day and winning the Age Group of the Week honor for the second week in a row! Margaret Driscoll and Kate Barber went 1-2 in Freestyle. Then, Margaret and Elizabeth Kellogg went 1-3 in Back. In Breaststroke, Helen Milito and Elizabeth finished 1-2. And finally, Kate and Helen finished 1-3 in Fly. The four of them then teamed up at the end to win the Medley Relay and haul in a combined 33 points to lead the team. 

Thrill #4: Sam Bruce finding his form. We all know what Sam has done and can do, and he seems to be putting it all together when it counts... cutting time and taking home blue ribbons in both the Freestyle and Fly for the 11-12 boys. Sam also anchored the winning Medley Relay team to earn himself 15 points on the day and the Swimmer of the Week title. 

"Nice swim... but I'm peaking, you know. "

Divisional Championships are up next! This is the meet where every team in Division 2 sends its top two swimmers in every stroke to compete for the honor of "Division Champion" and try to earn a bid into the Individual All-Star meet coming up next week. And we're hosting at the Swamp. Home pool advantage. 

Go Gators!

Full meet results versus Crosspointe are here. 

All the pictures are here

QFP. Quality Fly Photo. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Reflections of a Gator by Leigh Kovalsky

 As I sit down to write this, I can’t believe this will be my last summer as a gator. The past 13 years have gone by faster than ever imagined. At age 5 when I first began swimming, I had no idea what I was getting myself into other than simply going to swim practice and swimming in meets. But little did I know the gators would grow to become a community I’d never ever forget. 

Over the years I was lucky enough to be coached by the best, Coach Paul, who always pushed me to do my best, despite the fact that I was never a constant A-meet swimmer. I’ll never forget the first time Paul brought all of us 11-12’s up to the big pool to watch the older kids play water polo where he said “get ready to join them next practice” with the biggest smirk on his face.  That was the scariest swim practice of my life. But since that day I grew to look forward to playing, and beating my brother’s team, of course. 

As I look back on my time as a gator, nothing but fun memories come to mind. From hot and sticky Monday night B-meets to fast flying fish to all-nighter coaches retreats to bloody sharks and minnows (shout out to Paige Humphreys), every minute has been a blast but boy has it flown by fast.

But aside from all the fun I’ve had, the gators have been so much more than just a summer swim team. The gators have served as a team, job, family, community, and place I’ll never forget.

If you’re reading this and deciding whether or not to pay the fee to register your kid for summer swim, this is your sign - do it. This place has done more for me than I’ll ever be able to put into words, but one thing I can say is that it will change your life. I've disagreed with my parents on a lot of things (sorry Mom and Dad!) but this is one thing I’ll never argue with them about. Growing up as a Gator, I’ve been taught so many lessons both in and out of the water that I know I’ll use throughout my life. 

I’d like to thank the entire gator community for making the past 13 years nothing but fun.  To the various coaches and team reps that have joined us over the years, thank you for pushing me to do my best and adding on to the wonderful MVP Gator experience. To my other senior Gators, thank you for giving me some lifelong friendships and memories I won’t ever forget.

The MVP Gators have given me so much over the years and I’m so happy I was able to give just a little bit back by coaching the young ones and teaching them how to swim. So once again, if you’re on the fence about signing up for swim team, just do it. Trust me. You’ll see exactly what all us seniors are talking (and maybe crying) about soon ....

Monday, July 12, 2021

Pool and a Pond - Langley A Meet

 Continuing our theme from the last blog, let's start with a little more from Caddyshack. 

"We have a pool and a pond. Pond would be good for you..." 

If you haven't used that line 100 times at MVP, I just don't know what to say. Not only do we have an actual pool and a pond, but we have TWO pools and a pond. I mention this, because the meet on Saturday was another reminder of how lucky we are to be members at Mount Vernon Park. The trees, the picnic areas, the playground, the tennis courts, the gazebo, the pools, the pond... we have it all and it really is beautiful. Like most things in life, when you are close to them, it is easy to take things from granted. I find that the MVP grounds are one of those things I sometimes take for granted.

I showed up earlier than usual to the meet on Saturday because of some transportation management issues (i.e. I didn't want to walk...). And getting there early had me walking in as the Langley Wildthings were showing up and assembling in the inner parking lot. In the process of saying a few "hellos" and "welcomes" I ended up getting a half dozen compliments on the park and then overhead another half dozen as I walked in toward the pool. I'm sure the beautiful weather Saturday morning made it that much more impressive as the Wildthing families drove up and took their first looks at the sprawling acreage, the pond, the trees, the majesty... The amazement of first-time visitors when they come to the park is really something to behold and definitely makes me appreciate what we have even more. 

I love that we have an old steel slide and big giant swings in the playground... without 157 inches of padding below to cushion the kids when they fall. 

I love the string lights in the picnic area. 

I love the new Weber grills and the new fridge in the pavilion. 

I love the newly resurfaced tennis courts. 

I love the "Founding Gator" mural in the bath house (you are missing something, ladies, if you haven't peeked in to see it). 

I love the hill in back where the kids can roll down during swim breaks. 

I love the bat house, even if the bat is never home. 

I love that the bike parking lot is sometimes more full than the car parking lots. 

And yes, I love that we have a pool and a pond. The pond really does anchor the park as a defining feature, in my opinion, more than the pools. Yes, the pools are the primary recreation draw to the park. But the pond defines the park: the fountain, the fishing pier and constant sight of members with lines in the water, the watchful gator stalking us from Blondin Island, the consistent presence of Dave Blondin and his remote controlled sailing yacht tacking around Blondin Island... I am fond of the pond. And so were our visitors on Saturday as they took in the beauty of the park. 

To be honest, like Ty told Carl in the opening Caddyshack clip, maybe the pond would have been better for those visitors? Perhaps it would have slowed them down a bit and given us the chance to earn a few more points in this particular "A" Meet. (Kidding, of course.) 

Sportsmanship and Spirit Tchotchkes

Anyway, since Langley came to town, there would be a swim meet (in the pool, not the pond). Langley is the presumptive D2 champion this year. It won't be official until next week, but its pretty much a done deal. And seeing how we have fared in our first three meets of the season, you can guess how this one was going to turn out in the end (Langley won by quite a bit). But as always, there are still a few good stories to tell within that meet. 

College Day Cheers - Fight On! 

There was a high volume of Gator Excellence going on down in the 9-10 age groups this week. First on the list was Lincoln Jetton. Blog followers know that Lincoln is having a great season, and it only seems to continue getting better. Last week I mentioned that Lincoln was undefeated so far this season in all of his individual events. I will admit, I feared that I was going to get some backlash about that with cries of "You jinxed him!" if and when he lost this week... and he was supposed to lose, on paper. You see, I knew that Langley was bringing one of the three D2 swimmers with faster times than our stalwart Lincoln. He was supposed to lose. But he didn't. In what I hereby dub this week's Race of the Week, Lincoln not only cut time to overtake his opponent from Langley, but dropped the hammer so hard he beat him by over TWO seconds. Let that sink in. He had never swam as fast as his opponent before, but the will to win/refuse to lose mentality earned Lincoln another victory in a race that wasn't close. If you watched it in the meet, you didn't even know there was supposed to be drama. Amazing. Not only did he beat a previously faster swimmer, but he continued a three-week trend of getting faster every week: 37.37 in week 2, 36.76 in week 3, and 35.88 in week 4. Now that is putting in work! 

Lincoln is auditioning for MVP of MVP this year. 

And the excitement is not over. You'll note that I said there were three swimmers ahead of Lincoln on the D2 ladder. With his victory, there are now only two, and both of them swim for Crosspointe, our opponents next week. As it should be. Can he do it again? I'm excited to watch. Make sure you do, too. It'll be Event 3, the Boys 9-10 Freestyle next week. I am definitely not betting against Lincoln. "Be the ball, Lincoln." 

I did say there was a high volume of excellence in the 9-10 group this week, and Lincoln was just the beginning. Margaret Driscoll put in her own outstanding day at the office, coming home with two individual victories in the Free and Back, BOTH of which were time cuts to beat higher seeded opponents. She shaved about 3/4 of a second off her Free time to earn that victory, and then chopped the heck out of her backstroke time by over THREE seconds to earn the victory over her opponent by a slim 0.3 seconds. Not satisfied with those individual wins, Margaret also swam the anchor leg in the Medley Relay pulling out another photo finish victory over the Langley team 1:21.70 to 1:21.81. Quite a day for young Ms. Driscoll. And yes, as you have probably assumed... with that day, she earned herself the title of Swimmer of the Week. 

I love when Dave Anderson gets the "photo finish"
on a race that needs a "photo finish." He's a Pro. 

I need to add one side note on Margaret. When I called her the "young Ms. Driscoll" I wasn't kidding. She's 9. I can tell you, as Blogger/Stat Guy, the Stat Guy side of my brain is very excited when I see swimmers in the bottom half of the age group doing such great stuff and then think about the things she's going to do next year when she's 10 and still swimming in this age group again. Not that there won't still be more exciting stuff this year, but next year... Oh, boy. Look out NVSL. 

Okay, but I'm still not done with coverage of the 9-10's. I told you, they really got it done this week. 

Keeping up with the pace of excellence, Kate Barber took first place in the Fly and third in the Free. And Evelyn Milito took second in the Breast. And then Elizabeth Kellogg, Evelyn, Kate, and Margaret teamed up for that aforementioned Medley Relay victory to earn the 9-10 girls the honor of Age Group of the Week. Outstanding week girls! 

That's a high quality Fly photo as a victory memento. 

Yes, there was more swim meet outside of the 9-10 events. George Schulte continued his outstanding year taking the victory in Backstroke and Matthew Makin took the Breast for the 13-14 boys. And Emily Makin made it another double on the day winning both the Breast and Fly for the 15-18 girls. 

It's all about those starts and finishes. 

And while relay victories proved tough to come by on this day, the girls were able to pull out three. In addition to the 9-10's discussed above, the 11-12 (Karly Whitehead, Reese Myers, Alexandra Myers, and Helen Milito) and 15-18 girls (Lily Palmerino, Olivia Heck, Emily Makin, and Juliana Skopp-Cardillo) also both won their Medley Relays. 

Beautiful park. Check.

Great swimming. Check. 

More Caddyshack references. Check. 

...starts and finishes. 

Hmmm. I feel like I am forgetting something... Ah! Graduating seniors! Can't forget them. This was senior day at MVP complete with tears, joy, and lots of "fin whacks" in the gauntlet. We bid farewell and congratulations to eight departing senior Gators: 

Andre Zeitsev

Andrew Baker

Cecy Morales

Clarke Bayer

Juliana Skopp-Cardillo

Leigh Kovalsky

Olivia Heck

TJ Heck


You can go to the Gator Senior page to read some information on each senior and be sure to check out their traditional "Reflections of a Gator" blog posts which are always wonderful to read. (We'll continue to post more as the others complete their write-ups... these are seniors, you know... deadlines are only suggestions.) 

The full meet results are available here

And all the pictures are here

Go Gators! 

Congrats Seniors! 

Still outpacing the rest of the parents with cheer swag. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

By Height - Measuring Up at Divisional Relays

First, I think I owe the community an apology. In researching and preparing for this blog entry, I discovered something rather shocking... and disappointing. I've been doing the Gator blog for about five years now. And those of you who have been reading along with us know that I like to make quite a few movie references. Well, my idea for this blog was from one of my "go to" movies for general references, but I couldn't remember how many times, and how many scenes, I've already referenced from said movie in the past few years. So, I thought I should do a quick audit to make sure I wasn't recycling old content. And what did I find? Zero. Zilch. Nada. No references to Caddyshack at all! In nearly five years of blogging. I don't know what to say. I'm not sure how I allowed that to happen, and I am truly sorry. I will rectify that issue immediately. Caddyshack quotes aplenty!  

Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today? 

Ty: Oh, I don't keep score, Judge. 

Judge: Oh, well, how do you measure yourself with other golfers? 

Ty: By height. 

Simple and classic. I love that line and try to us it in conversations whenever I can... and about 100 others from that movie, but don't we all? 

But what does it have to do with Divisional Relays? Well, I was thinking about it, and I thought that maybe this was a good time to point out some other measurement techniques to evaluate our performance. "How do you measure yourself against other swimmers?" "By height."

Okay. Not exactly. But it is no secret that this season has been a challenging one at the team level. Our competition in D2 is especially strong this year, and we are collectively having an off year as even many of our best swimmers (save a few exceptions) aren't always hitting their elite level performances in the pool, which is asking a lot by the extremely high bar that our swimmers have set for themselves in previous seasons. But the goal of this "alternative measurement" is to show that while we may not always be hitting our own high expectations of elite performances, we are still doing great. And I thought a good way to benchmark that is by creating a virtual Relay Carnival meet between a bunch of the local Fort Hunt pools. So, I pulled the data from Wednesday and put together a comparison of how the Relay Carnival would have turned out if we swam against this group instead of D2, namely: Waynewood, Hollin Meadows, Stratford, Riverside Gardens, and Little Hunting Park. Along with MVP, that makes a tidy little division of six teams, the unofficial NVSL Fort Hunt Division. 

"Be the ball." 

As background, teams are scored on the following graduated scale in the Relay Carnival:

First place: 14 points

Second: 10 points

Third: 8 points

Fourth: 6 points

Fifth: 4 points

Sixth: 2 points

DQ: 0 points

So, using that scoring scale and pulling the times from all six teams, I put together a "Fort Hunt Division" Relay Carnival. Virtual, yes, but still fun to look at. 

"You buy a hat like that, I bet you get a free bowl of soup. Oh... 
Looks good on you though."

So, how did things turn out? Pretty good for the Gators. The final scoring would have been: 

1. Mount Vernon Park 228

2. Little Hunting Park 194

3. Waynewood 144

4. Riverside Gardens 136

5. Hollin Meadows 132 

6. Stratford 102

Not too shabby. A commanding victory for the Gators in the matchup of local teams. In the 22 relay events, the Gator teams would have come away with 10 victories, three 2nds, five 3rds, three 4ths, and no 5th or 6th place finishes (with one DQ). Little Hunting Park, as the nearest challenger, would have had seven race victories, while no other team would have had more than two. 

I will take a quick paragraph here to give a shout-out to LHP for their virtual 2nd place finish. That amounts to quite a tectonic shift in the local pecking order of pools. As recently as 2015, LHP was in Division 15, but has been on a strong upward trajectory ever since. And looking closely at the "Fort Hunt Division" Relay Carnival data, it appears that ascension is poised to continue. A detailed analysis of the races shows an outsized share of the younger age group victories, including first or second in every 8 & under and 9-10 age group race. And, while they currently sit in Division 9, they are 4-0 this season, which ensures promotion next season. The NVSL wisdom dictates that teams with strong lower age groups tend climb the NVSL ladder as those age groups grow. In Caddyshack terms, we may be the Judge Smails/Dr. Beeper defending club champions on the local course, but LHP has done well in the caddy tournament and is making a challenge for supremacy. So, well done LHP, and I for one will be checking over my shoulder in the next year or three to see if they continue the charge up the ranks.

"I want a hamburger, no a cheeseburger. I want a hot dog. I want a milkshake."

But enough about LHP. The main point of this analysis was to look at how the MVP relays stacked up versus the local teams. And the answer is GREAT. 

MVP's ten victories would have been in both mixed age free relays, 9-10G Medley, 11-12G Medley, 15-18G Medley, 9-10G Free, 11-12G Free, 13-14B Free, 15-18G Free, and 15-18B Free. 

Yeah, I know, virtual meets aren't quite as satisfying as the real thing... but I do think it is good to put our team's performance in context, which I think this comparison does nicely. With that context, I hope everyone can see how well our team did relatively speaking, viewed from outside the lens of D2. But, this is a blog about the actual D2 Relay Carnival. So, with all that previous discussion as pretext, let's go ahead and dive into the actual results of the D2 relays. 

"Big hitter, the Lama..." 

The Gators came in sixth place with 116 points, while Crosspointe took home the trophy with 190. The full results are online here.  

MVP's top performance on the night was the Boys 13-14 Freestyle Relay (George Schulte, Matthew Makin, Jack Alzona, & Alex North) which placed 2nd. The same group was also in the 13-14 Medley, but unfortunately DQ'd in that one. They are the 2nd ranked team in D2 for the 100m Medley, so we can assume that, if not for the DQ, they'd have been near the top of the 200m Medley, too. 

There were six MVP teams that finished in 3rd place: 

Boys Mixed Age Free Relay - Sam Bruce, Lincoln Jetton, Alex North, Clark Bayer

"So, I've got that going for me... which is nice." 

Girls 9-10 Medley Relay(*16) - Elizabeth Kellogg, Evelyn Milito, Kate Barber, Margaret Driscoll

Girls 11-12 Medley Relay(*Alt) - Karly Whitehead, Reese Myers, Alexandra Myers, Helen Milito

Girls 9-10 Free Relay(*17) - Evelyn Milito, Kate Barber, Andrea Morales, Margaret Driscoll

Girls 11-12 Free Relay(*18) - Karly Whitehead, Alexandra Myers, Julia Himes, Helen Milito

Boys 11-12 Free Relay - Sam Bruce, Ty Mills,  Rhett Butler, Anthony Sarro

We had four teams qualify for All-Star Relays (meaning that they are in the top-18 of all relay times in the NVSL). Additionally, we had three teams come in as alternates in the 19th or 20th spots. The asterisks (*) above indicate those teams and their seeding. The teams below swam so fast, against such strong competition, that even though they finished outside the top-3 in their Divisional races, their times were still good enough to get the All-Star bids or alternate nods: 

9-10 Boys Medley (*Alt) - Jackson Saloom, Lincoln Jetton, Andrew Wiggers, Jacob Milito

"He's a Cinderella story...outta nowhere"

15-18 Girls Medley (*17) - Lily Palmerino, Olivia Blondin, Emily Makin, Juliana Skopp-Cardillo

15-18 Girls Free (*Alt) - Juliana Skopp-Cardillo, Lily Palmerino, Caroline Miller, Emily Makin

In a normal season, these teams would all get to gather for the All-Star Relay Carnival, which along with the Divisional Relays, are normally my favorite meets of the year. But while we are mostly back to a post-Covid normal routine for the swim season, the All-Star Relay event was one of the casualties that the league was not quite ready to undertake yet. The higher concentration of teams all in one meet was deemed to be just a bit too risky for this year. But we should be back in business next year. 

So, there's the results, and some context that hopefully helps put things in perspective. Another Relay Carnival in the books. 

Go Gators!  

I will take a moment to add... the Relay Carnival was held at McLean. While a great pool with terrific parking and nice facilities, it was not the best spectator location for Relays. Everybody wants to watch these exciting races, and the limited deck space for spectators at McLean was a bit of a downer in a normally spectacularly fun event. What we need for an event like this is a pool that has a hill or some elevated space next to the pool where spectators can all sit and watch the races in their "stadium seating," cheering on the racers. Anyone know of a pool like that? Hmmm. 

"Hey, you scratched my anchor!"

(More photos here.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Reflections of a Gator by Juliana Skopp-Cardillo

            Every year my family and friends ask me what I am going to do over the summer and my answer is always the same: “summer swim.” It is my favorite time of the year. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and the smell of chlorine fills the air. For 14 years I have been a Mount Vernon Park gator. I have been able to compete in my favorite sport, with my best friends, while learning how to be a leader and passing on traditions to the younger swimmers.

Believe it or not when I started at MVP at the age of five I absolutely despised swimming. I got so nervous for practices and meets that I would cry my way out of the water. The stories Kelli Makin could tell. Once I finally got up the courage to swim my parents bribed me by offering me things like silly bands or Chick-fil-A sandwiches. My older sister Rachel who first got me in the water would try to trick me into races too. Now I enjoy every second of every event and I am able to help the little gators who have similar anxieties that I had.

Every year I looked up to the oldest swimmers and wished that I could be them, but now that I am in their position, I don’t want to say goodbye. I am going to miss getting up early in the morning and seeing my swim buddies' smiles and crazy bedheads. I am going to miss going out to lunch after an away A meet and watching the waiters be blown away by how much food our group can eat. I am going to miss making crafts at the pep rallies after Friday morning practices. I am going to miss dressing up for meets like a superhero or painting myself green. I am going to miss teaching the little kids how to blow bubbles instead of holding their breath. I am going to miss the caravan to meets and seeing other drivers stare in confusion wondering where we were all going so early in the morning. I could go on and on about all the incredible memories I have had at MVP. While all these memories are small, altogether they have everything to do with what this pool means to me. It’s more than just winning blue ribbons. It’s a family.

            While I have helped set records, competed in individual all stars and all star relays many years, and gotten several medals and awards, none of that really matters. The memories of my friends and the time we spent together are what count and are enough to last a lifetime. I know that I will remember my amazing times at MVP forever. I don’t have enough words to describe the impact that this team has had on me.

            I could not have been a part of MVP all these years without some help. I would like to thank my parents for always supporting me, always cheering me on, and of course driving me to swim practices and meets at all times of the day. Thanks to Coach Paul for tolerating me and my talkative personality, teaching me life lessons in and out of the pool, and for being the goofiest but best coach ever. I would also like to thank the various team reps over the years and everyone who has made my experience as a gator that much better.

Next year I will be attending Montclair State University in New Jersey. I will be majoring in fashion design and furthering my swim career on the MSU swim team. My future goal is to expand on my fashion brand Out Of The Blu by creating a sustainable fashion line that has low or zero environmental impact. As someone who spends a lot of time in the water, reducing the amount of chemicals dumped into our waterways from cheap clothing production is an important mission to me. An important mission just like swimming each year with MVP. Some words of advice never give up and just keep swimming gators! Last triple gator grunt on 3, 1… 2… 3…!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Reflections of a Gator by TJ Heck

It’s hard to believe that after 13 years, I’m here writing my farewell address. Over the last years, no matter how crazy the year was, the one thing that remained constant would be summer swim. My parents were let off the waitlist when I was 2 years old, and since then I’ve spent ample amounts of time in every part of the park. A few years later, at the innocent age of 5, my parents registered me and my sister for the gators. What did all that mean to me at that age? Countless runs on the hill, red light green light, and my tactile defensiveness surfacing from the sticky dew on the grass. This prevented me from showcasing my lack of experience and manifested by my being last in the pool because “my feet were too dirty.”
My earliest memory of being a gator would be a B meet in 2008 or 2009. Now, at the time I was not aware it was a B meet. After seeing Mr. Fulgum and other dads setting up the tent, I knew my mom had fabricated her words to not set me off. Well, it didn’t work. As I pieced the situation together, I immediately began to throw a tantrum and cry all the water out of my body, pleading, begging, my mom to not do this to me. In the end, I swam and it’s all a blur now. 
My experience being a gator was much more than dirty feet and being last in the lane. Over the course of my Gator career I have created some of the most rewarding memories to this day. My two highlights being placing 3rd and 5th at All Star Relays in 2015 & 2017 respectively. Besides those, I am thankful for experiencing the gross sweaty B meet afternoons, the too early to function morning A meets, and the pep rallies on Friday mornings. 
Last summer while I was walking out after giving a few lessons, Eddie and I were having a conversation, and he told me that when he was my age, “this was the place to be.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time but as I’m now writing this, it makes sense. I believe that the park itself but furthermore the Gators has not lost it’s element in all the years the team has been active. The park and the Gators have facilitated a different kind of growth for me both in and out of the water, one that I would not be able to achieve anywhere else. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve received and the experiences I’ve lived through since being a little gator. 
To close I’d like to thank the Bolgers, the Phalens, and Rose and Jamey for making summer swim nothing less of an incredible experience throughout my childhood. To Kellee Brotherton, Kelli Makin, Emily Bayer, Laurel Greszler, and Paul Makin thank you for investing your time into this team and especially in me. To past gators who may read this, thank you for showing me what being a gator is all about and encouraging me to do my best. To my graduating senior gators, it’s been great to grow up with you all. For the younger gators, keep working hard and being kind to one another. 
Once a gator, always a gator. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Rollercoasters - "A" Meet vs Wakefield Chapel

I am a pretty big fan of rollercoasters. One of my favorites is Apollo's Chariot down at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. It's powerful and fast, with exciting drops, but it does so in a very classy way. There are no unnecessary flips and turns. No loops or corkscrews to make your head hurt. Just lots of great speed and that sense of floating and falling as you coast through the steel hills. Contrast that with a similar roller coaster at Kings Dominion- the Intimidator 305. The Intimidator also has the huge drops and exhilarating speed, and also avoids the unnecessary fluff of loops and flips. And looking at the numbers, it even falls a little farther and goes a little faster than its counterpart, Apollo's Chariot. But it is not as enjoyable. The Intimidator is just too aggressive. In trying to be better than Apollo's Chariot, the Intimidator goes too far... it goes beyond the limits of what makes a roller coaster fun. The drop is actually so high and the first curve so tight, that the G-Force has a history of causing people to black out. Even more, the turns are so abrupt and sharp that riders have their heads uncomfortably slammed back and forth against the restraints while hammering through the high speed curves. Contrast that with Apollo's Chariot which doesn't even have any restraints on the shoulders or near your head... the ride is so smooth and enjoyable that riders only need a lap restraint to hold them in the open-style coaster. The first time you ride it, it almost makes you wonder if the restraint is going to be enough, but it is. The classic style of Apollo's Chariot makes that simplicity work. The over-the-top, in-your-face assault of the Intimidator requires a lot more restraint to keep riders safe. I'm sure there are some out there who prefer the Intimidator and other similar coasters. But for me it's the Chariot. Smooth speed and exhilaration all the way. 

Why the coaster discussion? Well, I do think they provide a good metaphor (or two) for swim meets. And I do like coasters. And its the Fourth of July, so amusement park stuff seems like a good topic for the day/season. I think the primary hallmark of roller coasters is that there are lots of ups and downs. Sure, there are lots of other variables that can be introduced, but the up and down is the main thing. Summer swim seasons, and meets, definitely have lots of ups and downs, too. Sometimes you start fast, sometimes slow. Through the highs and lows, you have fun and generally want to do it again. Your experience on that coaster (or swim season) may determine which one you go on next, perhaps take a ride on the same one again, or perhaps try a harder or easier one. 

The other team's theme was "Wild Animal Safari"... these guys were just wild.  

This week's meet at Wakefield Chapel definitely had a roller coaster feel to it. I heard from quite a few people that rumor had it that this was our best chance for a team win this season, so there were high expectations as we waited nervously in line to start the ride. We've grown accustomed to a fast start this season as we've rocketed out of the start in each of our meets thus far, however this one was a little bumpy. We didn't get that initial lead in the beginning and the riders grew nervous as we began rolling DOWN the track instead of up. But midway through Freestyle things started to pick up as the wobbling coaster found its track. Lincoln Jetton won his event for the 9-10 boys and then Sam Bruce and Helen Milito both earned the blue ribbons in the 11-12 races. As the 13-14 boys stood on deck, it felt like the coaster was tipping over the edge and ready to fly... and Alex North, Gavin Fore, and Jack Alzona claimed their first "clean sweep" of the day AND put the Gators ahead 34-29 in the meet. Ahhh... there is that exhilaration. 

Checking out that winning time.

The Gators kept pace as the coaster made its way through some small features. In the Backstroke, Alex Kellogg won the 8&under race, Jackson Saloom took the win for the 9-10 boys, and Karly Whitehead won for the 11-12 girls. Next up were the 13-14 boys, who put in "clean sweep" #2 with George Schulte, Joe Mills, and Gavin Fore taking all the ribbons. Up, down, up... this roller coaster was proving to be an exciting one. 

Things did start to get a little bumpy. And there was definitely some of that in-your-face roller coaster aggression that made our heads bang around a bit too much. But, after losing a few in a row in those dreaded corkscrew loops, Lincoln Jetton was able to get the coaster back on track with another win in the 9-10 Breast (That's 6 for 6 on the season for Lincoln, in case you weren't keeping track.) 

Head down... time going down... Victory.

And that lead up to one of the best Gator wins of the day in the 13-14 Girls Breaststroke. Abigail Litonjua put in her best race of the season and dropped a quarter second to upset two of the Wahoos by 0.02 seconds and earn the 5-point victory. What a close race. Interestingly, even at a 0.02 margin, it was still NOT the closest race of the day... more on that later. With such a great time drop to leapfrog over her competition in such a key race, Abigail earned the coveted title of Swimmer of the Week for this one. And she gets to sit in the front row on the next ride. 

Emily Makin finished off the Breaststroke events with a win for the 15-18 girls. After three events, the roller coaster ride was fun and exciting... but it was feeling a little more like the Intimidator than Apollo's Chariot. Wakefield Chapel had steadily outpaced MVP to about a 40 point lead. 

We were able to earn three move victories in the Butterfly races. Kate Barber won the 9-10 Fly in a personal best time of 18.77 breaking the 19 second threshold for the first time... that's the kind of drop we really like to see- in the pool and on roller coasters. Sam Bruce won for the 11-12 boys, and Emily Makin for the 15-18 girls. 

Awesome Fly photo, AND a new PR! 

At the end of the individual events, the Gators were down a little over 50 points. And with 60 points remaining in the relay events, there was still a chance.... if we won all 12 relays. That didn't happen. 

But we were still on this roller coaster, and let me tell you, there were still some interesting twists and turns ahead! 

The 8&under girls (Emily Moore, Lauren Rudy, Alex Kellogg, and Elizabeth Miller) took the win in their Freestyle relay. And then the 9-10 boys lost their Medley in a nail-biter as both teams cut time from their previous bests in a close, fast race... which set the stage for the 9-10 girls Medley Relay. Oh, what a race. This one had the smooth, classy excitement of Apollo's Chariot, alright...

The swimmers were very close through each leg of the relay (Back, Breast, Fly...), but the Wahoo's had progressively opened up about a body-length lead heading in to the final Freestyle leg.  And that is where this ride gets interesting. In fact, as I watched the final leg of the race I couldn't help but be reminded of "The Swim" as we now call it. That fabled final leg from back in 2018. In case you are new around here or haven't thought about it in a while, now is a great time to watch it again, before we continue. (I will pause to let you watch this short video as you prepare for the final excitement of this particular ride... and if you want to read about "The Swim," its in the archives here.): 

Okay, that was awesome. But so was Andrea Morales' final leg in the 9-10 Medley Relay on this day. Apparently Andrea decided to channel her inner Donovan Kovalsky and dropped the hammer to overtake her Wahoo opponent and come from behind to win the race by 0.01 seconds! Race of the Week- no question. Possibly Race of the Season! It was awesome. I don't have the same video of the girls race, but it definitely had the same feel. So, you can just watch "The Swim" video again and imagine Margaret Driscoll, Evelyn Milito, Kate Barber, and Andrea Morales in the roles of the boys from "The Swim." Great race. Great finish. 

Head down. No breaths. Come from behind victory.

The 11-12 boys and girls both won their Medley Relays, too, though without quite the same drama. 

The 13-14 boys won their relay in a landslide capping off a terrific day for our Age Group of the Week. If you weren't tracking the updates above, the 13-14 boys had two clean sweeps (in Free and Back) and also took 2nd/3rd in both the Breast (Matthew Makin and Shaan Nagda) and Fly (Alex North and Matthew Makin), and then the team (George Schulte, Matthew Makin, Alex North, and Gavin Fore) won the Relay by a wide margin. All tallied up, they took 31 out of a possible 41 points on the day to lead the Gators. As runners up in last week's AGOTW competition, it looks like these boys decided to leave no doubt this time. 

Did you see this week's blog? We won AGOTW. I love reading the blog. 

It was a fun ride. That said, I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that maybe, just maybe, this amusement park we are at this summer, and these big, bad roller coasters, are just a bit out of our range. But while we're here let's have fun and enjoy it. And if the roller coasters are too scary, we can always try some other rides. Another favorite ride of mine is the "Drop Tower" style ride. It is different from the roller coaster in that there isn't as much up and down drama. It's pretty much just free-fall. Yeah. See you next week. Not that there's a metaphor here. 

Go Gators. 

All Results. 

All Pictures

High quality cheer gear right here. 
I think the rest of the parents have some work to do.... just sayin'.