Holding their breath: swim team state finalists wait for Covid-delayed state finals


One of the parameters for returning to swimming prior to the state meet being cancelled were mandatory masks. “After each race we are always dying and we need oxygen but with the mask that’s impossible,” Perales said. (Maria Perales)

Hannah Williams, Angelina Baker, Abigail Wettlaufer, Meghan Hincher, and Maria Perales were less than a week away from swimming in the state championship when the state of Michigan went on a three-week pause to curb the increasing spread of Covid-19. Stunned, the girls went from focusing on peaking at the right time to wondering if and when they would be able to compete again. 

My first initial thought when I heard the news was shock,” said Wettlaufer. A sophomore who has been swimming for 8 years, she qualified for the state meet in the 100 yard butterfly, the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay.  “I was obviously sad, but you always have to find a silver lining in a bad situation,” she said. “My silver lining is, I was very fortunate to have an awesome season with the Portage Northern Swim Team and was able to compete alongside my best friends.”  

Perales, a junior who has been swimming for 7 years, had a similar reaction. “When we received the email from our coach that states got canceled, I got really sad because my teammates and I were practicing really hard for states,” she said. She qualified in the 200 IM relay and the 50 fly. “I miss swimming,” she said. “I have so much free time now.” 

“When I found out athletics were cancelled, I was disappointed because I had been working hard the whole seasons in hopes of making it to states again,” said Hincher, a sophomore who has been swimming for 6 years. “I remember my grandma calling me and the first thing that came to my head was that I was really looking forward to getting the experience of going to states again with my teammates, and being upset that I wouldn’t be able to spend that time with them.” Hincher was looking forward to being a member of the 400 freestyle relay, which she also swam at states last year. “This year has been hard, especially when school got cancelled for the first time, but I am really thankful for my friends. Even though I haven’t been able to see my school friends I have stayed in contact with them and they have continued to support me and I am especially grateful for that. Being able to swim for the Portage Aquatic Club this year has also been amazing because my teammates are some of my closest friends and we have been swimming outside and making memories that I’m sure will last us a long time.”  

Baker, a junior, has been swimming since she was just 6 years old and lost more this year than just an on-time state championship. “2020 has been a challenging year as a student athlete,” she said. “In March 2020 I was ready and prepared to swim at the USA Speedo Sectional Meet (a high qualifying meet) for club swimming. That meet was cancelled less than 2 weeks before it was supposed to happen, and I was in the best shape of my life and I was physically and mentally prepared to post some personal best times. It was devastating to me to not be able to complete my season with a taper meet after several months of very hard training especially going into my junior year. The college recruiting period was quickly approaching and not being able to compete and display best current times was devastating. I honestly didn’t even think we would have a high school swim season, so I was happy to be able to participate in a few meets. The season started late and was cut short & unfortunately we again didn’t get the opportunity to swim in any rested/tapered meet. I knew the state meet was fast approaching and finding out that we would once again be without a final tapered meet was crushing.” Baker was set to swim the 500 freestyle, the 100 butterfly, the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay at the state meet. 

Williams, a sophomore, has been swimming literally for as long as she can remember and was looking forward to competing in the 200 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke. “When I found out that athletics were postponed, I was somewhat expecting it,” she said. My parents are both in the medical field, so I knew how bad the cases were getting. I knew it was going to get bad again, but I was just hoping that I would still be able to make it through the State meet.  When it got cancelled, I was very angry and defeated.” Despite anticipating a turn for the worst, the blow felt even more significant in light of the sports cancellations of Spring 2020. “It felt like it was never going to get back to normal,” she said. “This state meet was the first thing this year that was somewhat like last year, and now it was over. I felt so utterly defeated, and it felt like this whole Covid thing was never going to end, so what was the point?”  

Williams turned that anger into a focused passion. “I am swimming to keep in shape and to try not to lose all the hard work that I’ve put in thus far. However, due to all the restrictions put into place, it is difficult to continue to train,” she said. “I am only able to swim if I am swimming outside. I am practicing twice a day, before and after school, to stay in shape. It gets very cold in the morning when we swim, especially as it is starting to snow and the pool deck is icing over. The coldest it has ever been has been about 25 degrees, and all my swim gear was completely covered in ice. But, it is all we have and it’s more than nothing. We are still able to practice and keep in shape as best we can, and that is what matters.”

Her teammates are hard at work as well. “While I wait for the meet to get rescheduled, I will be working out at the gym and swimming at the clubs pool, while my coach sends me sets to do individually,” Wettlaufer said. “To stay mentally focused, I write my goals down and I put them all over the house and just looking at them every day reminds me of why I keep swimming.” Perales is also staying active. “Right now I’m just working out because all of the pools are closed so I can’t swim with the high school team or my other club team, so I’m just working out,” she said. 

Baker is equally determined. “This pandemic certainly hasn’t stopped me from working extremely hard towards my goals,” she said. “I know I’m not going to get there by sulking and feeling pity.” In March when pools were shut down, she completed cardio, lifting, and rowing workouts at home. In May, she bought a wetsuit and trained in Austin Lake, swimming several miles a day. “My club coach was able to get us pool time at the local country club and I was practicing at 5 am all summer Monday – Friday and traveling to Elkhart, Indiana 3 days a week for additional training in addition to dry land training,” she said. “I’ve continued to train with my club team during the high school season, which still meant 5:15 am practices 3 days a week before school, outdoors, in 28 degree weather, in addition to after school training. I’m currently training without a coach in an outdoor pool and will continue to do this in all weather conditions.” Baker is at a crucial point in her swimming career, in talks with several D1 and D2 colleges about swimming in college while pursuing a nursing degree. 

The MHSAA recently announced that the state meet has been rescheduled for January 15-16, 2021, but after the gap in the season, it’s not all pomp and circumstance. “At this point, I don’t feel having a state meet is beneficial to anyone,” said Baker. “Swimming is a different kind of sport, you can’t just stop training and expect to be able to have us athletes perform at the same level as they were prior to the shutdown. I think if there is a state meet that it will be an unfair playing field and they should have found a way to get a three day extension and let it happen when it was supposed to.”