November 6, 2023
• The practice pool at Babson College may have been decked out in green and white, but the spirit in the air Friday night was navy blue and gold.
Needham High School’s swim and dive team were riding high after their historic win at the Bay State Conference Oct. 20, where they beat their Wellesley rivals and took first for the first time in 20 years.
Seventeen of the team’s swimmers qualified for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s South sectional competition at Boston University last Sunday. And 14 of them — including all seven seniors — will also go on to D1 states at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this Saturday. It’ll be their first season in D1 in several years.
Prior to sectionals, the athletes tapered, swimming shorter distances and focusing on rest. Their coaches followed with stopwatches as they dove and swam a single lap across their lanes, hearing feedback once they reached the opposite side.
Nothing, however, seemed to taper their spirits.
“We’re gonna leave it all in the pool this year,” senior Julia Shulman said. “Whatever happens, we’re gonna be proud of it.”
Rallying to best Wellesley — both at the conference and a prior meet this year — meant everything for Needham senior and co-captain Sophie Guarrera.
“Hearing them say that we beat Wellesley which, Wellesley wins it every year,” Guarrera said. “It brought everyone together.”
But the NHS squad enters a new mindset this week, after coming in second to Wellesley at sectionals over the weekend. They lost by just eight points, 397 to Wellesley’s 405.
Under Head Coach Kate Curtin, the team is “rising to the challenge” and swimming their hardest, she said. There are competitive races ahead, Curtin said, meaning they’re not easing up anytime soon.
As the team’s former assistant coach, Curtin said it’s been “really amazing” to follow the group of girls through their successful, young swim careers. Reaching this milestone is important for her and the girls.
“This group of seniors and the upperclassmen on this team I’ve known for a really long time, and it’s been so awesome to see them so motivated,” Curtin said. “Every week, they’re so grateful for everything, but I’m also like, ‘You guys are the ones doing it.’”
During their last practice, former Coach Rachel Waldstein stood poolside, timing laps and providing support and advice. She watched as the swimmers, many of whom qualified by sophomore year, prepared to compete.
Though the team broke a long-standing losing streak at the conference, the win “didn’t come out of nowhere,” Waldstein said. This year’s seniors entered high school in the fall of 2020, when there wasn’t a swim season. Given that adversity and their remarkable growth in spite of it, Waldstein said she’s proud of the example the swimmers have set.
“The tradition of Needham swimming goes back so, so far… It’s always been, regardless of the record, a program of excellence, a program of working hard, of continuing to build and continuing to get better,” Waldstein said, “and knowing that it doesn’t matter what lane you’re in, every kid can get better.”
Senior Chloe Wukitch took first in both the 200 and 500 Yard Freestyle Sunday, the latter of which she won by over 11 seconds. With states in mind, Wukitch said she’s looking forward to the energy of the crowd and opposing teams — even under water, she can hear the cheering.
Wukitch said she’s most excited for a team win but had a few personal goals in mind.
“I hope in the next two meets I can break my own personal record, which is the high school record right now,” Wukitch said. “It’s like re-breaking the high school record.”
Right behind Wukitch in the 500 Yard Freestyle was fellow senior Kylie O’Hearn, who also placed fourth in the 200 Yard Freestyle. At Friday’s practice, O’Hearn said she hoped to place in the top 8 so she can secure a place on the podium and receive a medal.
Looking ahead to states, she said she expects more tough races.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but it’s really exciting,” O’Hearn said.