High School Swimming Finals, Records Have Been Altered by COVID-19

Matt Brownstead Virginia-high-school-swimming

Unlike most other sports, high school swimming has multiple seasons. It all depends on the state in which the school competes, with roughly 130 state/sectional/divisional high school championship meets being held as early as October or as late as May of the following year.

And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, some high schools had already completed their championships, others saw their season canceled…while still others were interrupted during the middle of their meet!

Here are just a few examples of how the coronavirus affected high school swimming:

PENNSYLVANIA DISAPPOINTMENT

At the Pennsylvania Class 3A Championships, March 11- 12, senior Matt Brownstead of State College High School (State College, Pa.) clocked 19.24 in the 50 yard free to take down Caeleb Dressel’s national high school record of 19.29 from 2013. Then he did something arguably even more impressive: On the Lions’ 200 free relay, which finished fourth, Brownstead split a ridiculous time of 18.67 seconds on the anchor leg.

Prelims for the second day of the meet were held, but the evening finals were canceled due to coronavirus concerns, causing meet officials to designate the prelim results to be the “final” results.

Brownstead swam 43.29 in prelims—which was at the time fourth in the nation—but his opportunity to swim faster that night was taken away. Also quashed was his chance for being in the discussion for Swimming World’s Male High School Swimmer of the Year, along with Wyatt Davis and Jake Mitchell of Carmel High School (Ind.) and possibly Ethan Hu and Luca Urlando, whose May championship meets were later canceled in California.

How fast would he have been able to go in the 100 free? We’ll never know, but Brownstead knows the significance of what he did in the 50. “It certainly is an outstanding feeling,” Brownstead said after his record performance. “It’s kind of mind-boggling to think that I’m anywhere near what he (Dressel) goes because he’s the best swimmer in the world. But it feels really good to be here with my team cheering for me.”

Brownstead, who committed to Virginia, defended his 3A state title in the event, last year setting the state record at 19.55. His reaction after looking at the board was one of elation, with a little surprise mixed in.

“I had been thinking about that. It’s a little bit of surprise, a little bit of excitement,” he said. “But when I saw it, I was mostly excited because last year was kind of the same thing when I broke the state record, that this was what I want to go and I know I have the potential to do it, but I want to see if I can.”

Which high school swimmers of the year made the Olympics?

CALIFORNIA SEASON ERASED

There were plenty of elite swimmers in California ready to make their mark on their final high school season. Among them:

  • Luca Urlando of C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento had a spectacular high school season last year as a junior, breaking Dressel’s national public school record in the 100 yard butterfly from 2013 by 1-hundredth of a second with a 45.88. That summer, he proceeded to win five gold medals at the World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
  • Claire Tuggle also has been one of the top teen phenoms in the sport, and she is just a sophomore. As a freshman in 2019, she swam the second fastest time nationally in the 500 free (4:41.60).Who knows what they—and hundreds of other swimmers in California—could have done if they just had a season?

MISSED OPPORTUNITY IN MICHIGAN

And it wasn’t just the superstars who were affected. The coronavirus also affected countless teams that were just looking for an opportunity to see how they measured up with their competition.

The West Ottawa boys’ high school swim team from Holland, Mich. had won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state title in 2019, edging team runner-up Detroit Catholic Central on the meet’s final relay by 6-hundredths of a second to ensure the team victory.

After losing all but two of its point scorers from a year ago, 2020 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. However, this year’s psych sheet showed West Ottawa as the top-seeded team.

Would they have been able to repeat as team champions? That question would remain unanswered.

“It was very difficult to see our kids not have an opportunity to defend our state title,” said West Ottawa coach Steve Bowyer. “After graduating three division 1 swimmers, we had a new group of seniors hoping to make their mark for our program. It was going to be a very competitive meet with Detroit Catholic Central, Ann Arbor Pioneer and Hudsonville all bringing strong teams into the meet. We were looking forward to some great races.

The hardest thing for our kids is not having closure to the season and always wondering what could have been.”

Graduated were last year’s swimmer of the meet Derek Maas (Alabama), Khadin Soto (Purdue), Sam Smith (Oakland) and Christian Rottier (Saginaw Valley). Jamahl Hogan was the only swimmer returning who made the top eight finals—and he finished eighth in the 200 IM.

“With that group we lost last year, you come into the next season wondering what your identity will be. Jamahl had really embraced that leadership role from the beginning of the season,” Bowyer said. “As a coach, after you win a state championship and lose three Division 1 athletes, you almost reset your expectations. But for Jamahl and our senior group, they were determined not to let that happen—they had the same mindset as we did last year.

“It really showed with the improvement they had made, and that had a lot to do with his leadership and focus, wanting to make their mark just like the seniors did last year.”

Everything was prepared for them to repeat with a completely different group of scorers—something extremely rare at a state meet, especially at the Division 1 level.

But Michigan’s high school swimming season was wiped out just days before.