East County summer swim programs take the plunge

Photo by Phillip Brents From left, Granite Hills High School’s record-setting quartet of Chloe Morgan, Rachel Sapper, Erin Kluge and Izzy Cox are back in the water for the summer swim season.

Cathy Elgas held lots of promise for her Granite Hills High School swim team in 2020. When the spring season was prematurely cut short due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it was a disappointing end to the season for both coach and swimmers alike.

But Elgas and many of the Eagles are back in the water with the Manta Rays Aquatics club this summer.

The club started practicing several weeks ago at Granite Hills High School.

“It’s much different with social distancing, but it’s working,” said Elgas, who serves as club director.

“Training has gone great and the swimmers are almost back to where they were before we stopped in March,” Elgas added. “It took up until now for the swimmers to be back on their intervals.”

The emphasis right now is on training, improvement in stroke mechanics and starts, though Elgas is hoping clubs can start some form of competition to enhance training sessions.

Discussions are ongoing on what formats are possible later in the summer.

“I’m hoping we can start some sort of competition, so the swimmers have something to train for,” she said.

Granite Hills High School junior Erin Kluge has started to receive recruiting interest from college swim programs.

Swimming is a highly competitive sport in college.

“So, she’s anxious to get some times,” Elgas said. “The Air Force academy called her (recently) and is very interested in her.”

Also practicing with the Manta Rays are Granite Hills teammates Chloe Morgan and Izzy Cox, members of the team’s “golden girls” quartet.

Rachel Sapper competes offseason for the Heartland Swim Association, another East County program.

Making a splash

Swim programs this summer have a decidedly different look.

New safety protocols include swimmers arriving at the pool in their suits and leaving in their suits. There is no changing room use unless there is an emergency.

Social distancing extends to the water. Elgas said no more than three swimmers are allowed in each lane, with the optimum number being two.

If there are two swimmers in each lane, they are situated one at each end. If there are three swimmers, there is one on each end and one in the middle.   

The San Diego Shores water program is holding practices at the Granite Hills pool on Monday and Wednesday following Manta Rays practices.

For more information, contact Elgas at graniteswim@gmail.com.

Steena Harriman, the swim coach at Valhalla High School, serves as summer league coordinator for the Heartland Swim Association.

Steena Harriman serves as head coach for Valhalla High School’s swim program and is the summer league coordinator for the Heartland Swim Association.

The Heartland Swim Association program has also returned to the water amid guidelines imposed by state and local health officials during the pandemic. The club is currently running a summer league program that focuses on swimmers ages 13 younger to provide a look at competitive swimming.

“Due to COVID, it looks way different this year, but we are able to fully staff all of our pools with experienced coaches,” Harriman said.

The summer program has offerings at five East County pools.

Helix High School is hosting two afternoon programs while Grossmont High School is hosting a morning and afternoon program. Other pools include Santana High School, Steele Canyon High School and Montgomery Middle School.

HSA’s summer league program offers an introduction to competitive swimming in a fun and safe environment, according to Harriman.

Swimmers learn how to excel in all four strokes, starts and turns. During the program coaches also teach swimmers the basic vocabulary related to swimming — from how to understand a swim set to the more technical names of different parts of swimming.

Coaches work closely with swimmers to improve their strokes and help them build endurance and strength.

“We are so happy that we are able to offer a summer program for our East County swimmers this year,” Harriman said. “Although COIVD-19 has shortened our season, we are elated that after months of not knowing what summer would be like — and months out of the pool — we are delighted to offer a safe and fun program for so many people.”

To meet the requirements of social distancing this summer, Heartland Swim Association is offering a four-week program (July 6-31) with three 75-minute practices per week.

Harriman said to maximize the opportunity for swimmers during this time, coaches are also incorporating a yoga-based strength and conditioning dryland program for all swimmers at each practice.

“Not only will this benefit our swimmers in building strength, but it gives us an opportunity to help teach our swimmers how to increase their body awareness and sharpen their concentration,” she said.

The HSA program is currently pro-rated at $115 per swimmer, and there are still a few open spots at various sites.

During a normal year, local swim clubs have weekly swim meets where different teams will swim against each other. Swimmers are able to compete in a variety of individual events and relay events. Teams traditionally end their season with a two-day championship meet, which is the highlight for many swimmers, Harriman said.

However, due to COVID-19 and restrictions from the county, state, and USA Swimming, clubs are unable to host meets this year.

Instead, Harriman said clubs will be holding “meets” within practices where swimmers will get a chance to race others on their own team towards the end of the season.

Harriman said the summer program is only one small aspect of the overall Heartland program, which includes four different year-round age group teams.

Harriman noted that team manager Debi Frese has worked “around the clock to make sure we had our safe reopening plan completed, submitted, and approved so our year-round swimmers could get back in the pool as soon as possible.”

HAS’s year-round programs run out of El Cajon Valley and Grossmont high schools. For more information, email hsa@heartlandswim.org.

For more information, visit the website at www.teamunify.com/team/sihsa/page/home or email hsa@heartlandswim.org.