Swimmers Persevere Through COVID-ridden Season

Photo Courtesy of David Sinclair Photography

Photo Courtesy of David Sinclair Photography

A sixth place Centennial Conference finish was not exactly what the Dickinson swim team had in mind when they started their season, but given the obstacles they faced along the way, it certainly felt like a victory. 

Head coach Katie Wingert-McArdle said, “It’s really incredible that we performed as well as we did given what happened,” referring to the proliferation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the subsequent outbreak that infected many of the team’s swimmers during the final months of the season.

The Omicron variant struck the United States during winter break at Dickinson, disrupting the team’s annual training trip to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Wingert-McArdle said that apart from being a highlight of most seasons, the trip is “a great chance to bond and train together.” Instead, because of the surge in COVID cases, the team returned to Dickinson to spend three weeks training and bonding in a less-favorable climate: the Pennsylvania winter.

Wingert-McArdle says the difference between the effect of COVID on Dickinson’s swim season and similar obstacles other programs faced was that the Red Devils were affected near the end of their season, while other schools had similar issues near the beginning. This meant that just a few weeks before the biggest meet of the season, they still had swimmers in quarantine.

She says, “Few teams could go through the set of circumstances that our team did and come out on the other side as unified as we did.” She chalks the team’s perseverance up in part to their sense of humor, remembering a particular moment where she and a group of swimmers laughed at the team’s crazy tribulations “for two minutes straight.”

She particularly credits the first-year class, calling them “scrappy,” and saying that they came in with an attitude of “we’re just gonna take it on,” regardless of any setbacks they confronted. Sarah McHenry ’25, says “This season has been a rollercoaster.” Despite all that, she points out, the team “showed up at our conference with amazing energy and swam our hearts out.” 

In fact, it was already going to be an interesting season before the team’s COVID outbreak – there had been no Division III swim competition since the 2019-20 season, and it was Wingert-McArdle’s first full season as head coach. 

She says that the first season with a new head coach tends to be tumultuous, but that her transition to the role has been smooth, in part thanks to “the team’s commitment and establishment of collective values.” 

Even with a COVID outbreak, a new head coach, and the return to competition after two years, Dickinson swimmers fought through all the obstacles in their way to put on a strong showing at the conference meet. They recorded more than 80 lifetime bests, and an individual performance by Sarah Caron ’23 earned her an all-conference honorable mention. 

Wingert-McArdle is proud of her team, but she is already looking towards the future. She says, “I hope that one thing that comes out of the pandemic for all of us is that you can’t take anything for granted…nothing is guaranteed.”

Photo Courtesy of Dickinson Athletics