There was a 10-minute break between preliminary races at the Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swim and Dive League championships on Saturday, and Holton-Arms sophomore Annie Smith saw her team was in need of energy.
The rarely quiet Holton-Arms swimmers were relaxing on the bleachers, leaning on their bags and each other. The team had been there three hours and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock in the morning.
The notoriously spirited team wears costumes for championship meets because, Smith said, they “make us look more unified and make us feel more together.” Earlier in the week, the swimmers had chosen “One Nation Under Water” for their costume theme. “I was like, ‘I really need to go all out for this,’ ” Smith said. “It’s a big meet for us. We really want to show up and show everyone in the league what we are made of.”
Graham Westerberg, in his 10th season as the team’s head coach, instills pride in the team ethic as soon as swimmers enter the program. “When I was growing up and then competing in college, it was such an important part of the teams I was on,” he said. “Now, as a coach, I’ve always been a believer that you have to get behind your teammates through the good and the bad.”
Westerberg expects all of his team members to be at every meet from start to finish, whether they are swimming or not. There is no sitting down while at the meet, Westerberg tells his swimmers, especially if you have a teammate in the pool. It’s obvious every time a Holton swimmer steps up to the blocks: The team gathers at the opposite end of the pool and the decibel level in the natatorium rises as the girls start to scream and cheer.
“I know some schools think we’re a little too much,” Smith said, “but you know, we love it. We love being that team that is known for being the loudest.”
Which is why Smith found herself donning her costume hours before she had previously planned. She was going to save it for the finals, but then she noticed her team: “People were chilling out, so I might as well put it on. They needed some energy.”
Smith stepped into her suit, pulled over the hood and began belting out the national anthem. Within seconds, her teammates joined in, waving flags in the air.
“It’s just such a great community,” Smith said. “Everyone can be themselves and we enjoy supporting each other. We are proud to be Holton-Arms and it’s so great seeing everyone in costume and knowing that this is my team. It really lifts you up. It just makes you feel real good.”
Holton-Arms won the meet championship, beating Good Counsel by a half-point. Said Westerberg, “Maybe [our spirit] was the reason we were able to out-touch at the wall.”