Cape Cod Swim Club
Courtesy of: Carmen Triola
By Swimming World Intern Carmen Triola

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, January 12. WHEN they arrived at the 2014 CeraVe Invitational, Cape Cod Swim Club Head Coach Ron Zuwallack and his 11 swimmers could tell one thing right away: they were the little fish in a big pool.

They were, after all, fighting alongside big names like North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bluefish Swim Club and Berkeley Aquatic Club this weekend. But these underdogs from Massachusetts were ready to swim.

"We're here to perform, just like they are," Zuwallack said. "These kids are a young, enthusiastic group. I think they are eager to learn and excited about being here."

Excited, maybe, but their inexperience comes with a challenge. His swimmers have had to learn basic meet strategies -- what Zuwallack calls "the little things." He's taught them about getting enough sleep, eating and drinking throughout the weekend, and when it comes time to enter the water, getting over the anxiety of being with more-experienced swimmers.

Overall, though, Zuwallack says he focuses on controlling what he can. He doesn't have the size or the resources of the bigger clubs, but he and the team can still learn from their mistakes. They also work on getting as much experience as they can at their high-level meets. Events like these, they said, can help them progress towards their own big competitions back home. In particular, they want to race at their sectional championships in Buffalo at the end of March, and a couple of his swimmers will also be able to qualify for the New England Senior Elite Meet, which is set to take place in about a month.

His swimmers, it seems, are just as ready to compete.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Jarrett Jones, 16. "When you look at the heat sheets and you see Michael Phelps' club [North Baltimore], it's intimidating. But we all have the same goals. We're all here for the same reason."

Hannah Johnson, 15, was also enjoying her time at the meet.

"I think it's kind of cool swimming against other teams that you haven't before," she said.

Still, racing with such a small team isn't for everyone. While the athletes said they liked training at Cape Cod, not everyone was sure as to whether or not they wanted to have a similar experience down the road. Several talked about traveling more, or even wanting to join a bigger team in college.

"I feel like I'd get riled up better," said Tyler Sjahfiedin, 16. Still, he said, at his own club, he doesn't get lost in the pack. "Practice is never crowded. We get our own pool."

Another teammate, Elizabeth Mahoney, 16, said she was happy with her team's size, even with the big-name competition.

"I think the team name doesn't necessarily mean anything," she said. "It matters how you swim your race."