For North Carolina swim team captain Emma Cole, this is the most time spent away from the pool since she was a young girl.
With club teams shut down and local YMCAs closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, she and her teammates have been unable to get back in the water to train. The NCAA men’s and women’s championships were supposed to take place during the last two weeks of March, but, like most other athletic events, they were canceled.
“We were at the pool practicing, and then they pulled us out of the water and told us that we were not gonna be able to go to NCAAs, and we were very upset," Cole, a junior, said. "I mean, everyone just immediately felt bad for the seniors."
“This season was really special for us because we have a new coach, and we kind of attacked it this year with ‘We have something to prove,’ and ‘This is our year to show everyone what Carolina is about,’" she continued. "And that final chance (this season) to get our name on the map got taken from us."
The hiatus means that the team doesn’t have anything to train for. Head coach Mark Gangloff noted that this is typically a pretty slow time for the program anyway. As a result, Gangloff said he wants to take training pretty slowly for now.
“My primary focus for our team right now is just making sure that their school work is going to be able to be completed and they can get the resources that they need from campus to have a great end of the semester," Gangloff said. "That’s my number one priority."
With members of the team back in their respective hometowns — including some in other countries — it’s important for them, Cole notes, to keep a positive attitude and turn to each other as they cope with an abrupt and emotional end to the season.
“I feel like we have all come to realize what’s actually going on and the severity of the situation, and us going to NCAAs obviously wasn’t a possibility," she said. "We’ve come to terms with it, and now we’re just trying to keep up our culture and our team that we have been leaning on this whole season.”
The team has been holding meetings over Zoom to stay connected, and Gangloff has split up the team by year to discuss the situation and keeping each other accountable in classes. Eventually, though, he wants the athletes to shift their focus to start looking at the year ahead — and he made it clear that the team is not giving up the progress it made this season.
“The people that were slated to go to the NCAA Championships feel like there’s something left undone from this season, so they will be particularly motivated to come back with a vengeance next year," he said.
In a time where everything in the nation seems like it’s coming to a halt, there’s no doubt that the Tar Heels intend to keep advancing the program.
“I feel like this could be a motivating factor for us. I think we just need to keep in mind that the hard work didn’t just disappear,” Cole said. “It’s not like we’re having to start over next year. It’s just going to be a kind of different transition.”
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