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May 16—When we really last heard from prep swimmers, it was the gnashing of teeth as the virus shuttered their beloved pools.

And, in Santa Fe, stringent health orders pretty much wiped out the summer training season, then turned the sport almost into an afterthought as the Genoveva Chavez Community Center was pretty much the only pool open.

“We practiced from 6:45 to 8:30 p.m. and we were only allowed 12 kids at practice,” said Santa Fe Prep coach David Caldwell. “Every two weeks, I’d see kids five times. So, it’s really a testament to these kids.”

Led by junior sprinter Sophia Gossum, Caldwell’s kids turned in a strong performance Thursday at Albuquerque Academy to win a second straight girls small-schools state swim championship, with 44 points; St. Michael’s was third, with 13 points. On the big school side of things, Los Alamos finished third, with 166 points, and Santa Fe tied for 13th, with 58 points. The boys meet was held Saturday, but was not completed until after deadline.

A year ago, Gossum was second in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints, and nearly matched that with a second in the 50 and fourth in the 100, both well above her seedings.

“I think, for the year of training that I’ve had, and the ups and downs, I was pretty happy with where I was,” she said. “I was definitely hoping to do better in my races, but I think it’s hard to expect that with all of the circumstances.”

As a repetitive sport, swimming success is earned through hours upon hours in the water, honing technique with precision.

“We went down from swimming 12 hours a week to swimming three hours a week for a really long time,” Gossum said. “Months. We were also out of the water for the first three months of COVID, then got in three hours a week, then were out again. And then we were practicing late at night. I just think the lack of training and practice schedule was difficult.”

At first, the break — Gossum’s first in nine years — was welcome, but then it quickly got old.

“At the beginning, it was kind of nice because I don’t get that many breaks,” she said. “Swimming is a year-round sport. At the beginning, I was like, ‘This is not so bad.’ But I definitely started to miss it a few weeks in and … got a little stressed when other states started opening.”

A strong student who excels at the math sciences, but also is interested in law, Gossum would like to swim for a college that can also challenge her academically. “Right now, I’m keeping my options open,” she said, although seeing the seasons slip away was tough.

“Knowing that our state was so closed down, and other states had access to pools and water, even Albuquerque opening before we did, it was a little nerve-wracking because I felt like I was falling behind.”

Indeed, her times Thursday were well behind last year’s marks and she’s still rounding into swimming shape after taking up running as a way to remain fit.

“I started running a lot, like 50 miles week,” Gossum said, “thinking that I was staying fit. But running changes your physique. And I think that was challenging, figuring out ways to stay in shape without access to pools.”

Even Caldwell was at a loss as to what to tell his swimmers.

“You cannot replicate swimming in any other sport,” he said. “For all of our athletes who are here, they’ve struggled left and right, and especially at altitude. Nothing compares to swimming. In Santa Fe, we’re at altitude, so training is a whole completely different animal than across the rest of the state.”

Reshaping Gossum’s body structure is still ongoing.

“It’s a work in progress,” Caldwell said. “Like everybody in COVID, we’re all working to get back to where we were. And getting back to where we feel comfortable. And I feel that’s the same for all our athletes across the state. We’re just trying to get back to where we were and it’s a long process.”

Still, having something tangible to take home, like a second blue trophy, brought about some smiles because it certainly wasn’t taken for granted.

“That’s the piece that great swimmers and great leaders have,” Caldwell said. “Even if they’re not at their best, they’re going to find a way to go above and beyond to … help their team. And that’s what she did. She swam for her team and she swam for herself. It’s been a great day of watching her perform.”

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