GRANVILLE – Hailey Miller never expected backstroke to be her niche.
In fact, the Watkins Memorial senior swimmer initially hated it. The stroke, however, grew on her.
“I discovered last year that I was alright at backstroke,” Miller said. “I never felt that would be my stroke, but I am looking forward to dropping time there. I did not like it, and then we swam at Kenyon last year. I thought I was going to do awful, and I ended up not doing too bad. That ended up being my event for sectionals.”
Keeping an open mind will be the theme of the Watkins girls season as the Warriors are a program in transition. Coach Fay Berry takes over after Heidi Williams’ three-year stint, and the Warriors graduated two of their best swimmers in program history — Shelby Seas and Kayla Fenimore.
It will take a total team effort for Watkins to continue the program’s ascension up the ranks in the Central District. The Warriors have reset school records and improved their standing in central Ohio each season over the past half-decade.
“I have always done the 500 freestyle and 200, so I hope to do some other events this season,” senior Chelsea List said. “That is all I’ve ever swam. My freshman year, coach Williams put me in the 200 and the 500, and I just never switched.”
Barry has coaching experience having been the Watkins throws coach for the girls track team. Her job is made easier this winter by the presence of her seniors and several underclassmen, who have high-level club experience.
“Her first concern is whether or not we are healthy,” said Miller, who threw for Barry during the spring. “She is asking, ‘What’s sore? What’s hurting?’ We want to prevent all injuries. We want healthy swimmers.”
Junior Gracie Gessner and sophomore Kelsey Seas joined the graduated standouts on the 200 medley relay, and Seas and junior Abby Jarvis return from the 400 free relay, which each placed 19th in the Division I district meet a season ago. Seas, Gessner and Jarvis also joined the graduated Jayna Hulse on the district-qualifying 200 free relay.
All three relays set school records with their performances at the district meet.
“We have a fair number of kids who are club and certainly with them swimming year-round they are going to be at that same level as those teams that swim year-round,” Barry said. “The rest of the kids are certainly going to get in shape, get in condition. There is a bit of a learning curve, but they will catch up fast enough.”
In the meantime, Watkins will focus the first few weeks on gaining experience.
The Warriors will split their team Saturday. The top Warriors will compete in a meet in Cleveland to prepare for the upcoming Ned Reeb Memorial at Ohio State on Dec. 12. The rest of the team will be closer to home competing in Northridge’s Viking Splash at New Albany.
“We’re the leaders now. That’s crazy,” Miller said.
List added, “A lot of the juniors and sophomores swim (club) and are really improving, so that will help.”