For the first time ever, alumnae returned to their college pool Homecoming weekend to compete in the Blue and White Intersquad Meet, which launches the swim team’s season.
Seven alumnae, including two All-American swimmers, Linda Okonkowski ‘12 and Rachael Baer ‘15, traveled to Hillsdale for the meet, and head coach Kurt Kirner said he welcomed home more Homecoming swimmers than he had expected.
Alumna Kenzi Dickhudt ‘17, who is completing a George Mason University master’s program in economics, said she loved taking Kirner’s invite to swim with her team again, and she hopes that the weekend will become an annual tradition.
“I really enjoyed seeing other alumnae from when I wasn’t on the team. It was cool to laugh and joke around about a similar experience, though we were never on the same together. It felt like old times, honestly.”
Although Dickhudt still swims regularly, she said she was grateful to pick and choose which events she wanted to do. Swimmers still on the team dove in for every event.
“It takes a lot of grit,” Dickhudt said. “It was so nice to say ‘I want to swim that, I don’t want to swim that, I’m going to sit in the hot tub!’”
Because of the event’s intensity, Dickhudt encouraged current team members to use the meet as a springboard for the rest of their season, rather than a tool for predicting their performance for future meets.
“This meet just says where you’re starting, and that’s okay,” Dickhudt said. “We all look at our times — that’s how we evaluate where we’re at. For the alumnae, that’s the only time we’ll see times. For the other girls, they’ll be in meets for the rest of the fall.”
During this inaugural meet, the swimmers were “lively and loose,” an energy Kirner said he likes his swimmers to show in competitions early in the season.
The season’s first meets also give way to rusty performances, as Kirner called them.
“Many swimmers were quite tired after the first couple events as they have been consistently building early to lay down a foundation for the midseason events,” Kirner said.
He said freshmen Hannah Wilkens and Katherine Heeres posted team-best times in, respectively, the fly and IM and the back.
“It was a little nerve-wracking but also very exciting to compete in the first meet of the season. I was really happy with how it went. It was really fun to compete with my amazing teammates for the first time,” Wilkens said. “I’m excited to see all the wonderful things we do as a team and as individuals this season.”
Junior Anika Ellingson also swam well, touching the wall in 1:06.8 in the 100 breast, while sophomore freestyle specialist Danielle LeBleu dominated her signature stroke.
“We need to focus better on setting a competitive mindset to create opportunity for an optimal race plan and get out early on our swims so we can assertively control races better,” Kirner said.