Following a season full of victories, the Bellmore-Merrick Lady Sharks continued their momentum at the Nassau County Girls’ Swimming and Diving Championships on Nov. 9. The squad finished second behind Garden City High School, their conference rival.
The team was ranked third among Nassau’s 30 high school swim teams as the season began, which motivated members to win meet after meet. The Lady Sharks finished their conference and division season undefeated this year, and bested Garden City by 9 points at their dual meet on Oct. 4.
“We had a lot of returning talent going into the season, and recently we had an influx of younger talent, even middle- school athletes,” said coach Rob Kaefer. The team comprises swimmers from the district’s middle and high schools.
With a strong base of “fast and talented young swimmers,” Kaefer said, he convinced the team that a county championship was possible. “I told them if they swam to the level they were capable of, they should finish this season undefeated.”
Mepham High School senior Stephanie Walsh, of Bellmore, has swum with the Sharks for the past six years. She said the squad approached this season with a “teamwork mindset,” in which the swimmers encouraged one another if anyone came up short during a meet.
“We would say, ‘This wasn’t your best race, but what can we do to help you in the next one?’” Walsh said. “It was all about staying positive and working with the team to be successful.”
Also integral to the Sharks’ success was the relationships they developed outside the pool. Kennedy High School senior Summer Hasseck, of Bellmore, said her teammates affectionately called her the “swim mom” at practices and meets — she would lift their spirits if morale sagged.
“We’d get together at people’s houses for pasta parties and get to know each other,” Hasseck said. “The older girls gave advice to the younger girls. We did our homework together. We were like siblings.”
Kaefer said the squad was “amped up” for counties, and their performance in preliminary rounds exceeded his expectations. Most impressive, however, was the Sharks’ comeback in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Walsh swam the final leg for Bellmore-Merrick.
“It was the last race of the night, and we kind of figured out we weren’t going to win the meet, so all we wanted was to get first in that race,” she said. “I remember getting into the water and being close with the other teams, so I didn’t know who was going to win. But I looked over at the bleachers where my team was, and everyone was going crazy.”
“We were able to win the 400 pretty solidly,” Kaefer said. “It’s disappointing not to win counties, but the girls showed incredible commitment and confidence in their swimming, swam fast when they needed to and accomplished everything they could.”
Hasseck said second place pales in comparison to the team’s efforts this season. “We worked so hard to impress ourselves and our coach that I don’t think any of us were even that hurt,” she said. “Other teams were scared of us, and we built a really good reputation.”
Six Sharks will compete at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Girls Swimming & Diving Championships at Ithaca College Nov. 22-23, representing Section 8. The group includes Walsh, Brooke Armstrong, Riley Fried, Veronica Gelfand, Hazel Wilkins and Marley Zimmerman.
“It was pretty surreal to me to know [counties] was my last time wearing my Bellmore-Merrick cap,” Walsh said, “but looking at our team and seeing the future of it . . . I could not be more proud.”