When young swimmers enter Plant’s cafeteria for the first time, their eyes are instantly drawn to the wall with the Panthers’ record board.
“They don’t know I’m watching them, but they’ll be looking at that board. The young kids, especially, like to set those kind of goals,” Plant coach Gil Gonzalez said. “They know what the Plant records are, and that’s what they’re always trying to strive for. When you can swim a Plant record, you’re looking at gold-medal relays and gold-medal swims.”
Gonzalez has a few athletes whose names are already up on the cafeteria wall, and the Panthers will be looking to again rewrite the record books this year — starting at Saturday’s City Relays with a squad low on experience but loaded with potential.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team,” sophomore Emma Donohue said. “There’s a lot of hidden talent that no one’s really seen. There’s a lot of room for improvement. We’re pretty good right now, but there’s a lot more we haven’t seen yet.”
Despite a relatively unproven squad, junior Elle Munns said there are plenty of reasons to believe this year’s team can be just as good as, if not better, than the 2009 team that won the Class 3A-2 region meet.
The Panthers are led by a record-setting core of senior Haley Hahmann and sophomores Emily Clifford and Donohue. Clifford already boasts a school-record time in the 100-meter breaststroke, and she will turn more of her attention toward the butterfly and 200 IM this season.
Hahmann, meanwhile, has been a part of all three relay records and could potentially make a run at the 100-meter backstroke mark, but she isn’t stopping there.
“I think this year, we’re really going after the medley relay record. We got it last year, and I think we’re trying to beat it again,” Hahmann said. “Of course, I’m also going after some individual ones.”
Plant could also have just as much depth as last season given the number of young, talented athletes on the roster. While underclassmen like Clifford and Donohue will lead the way, Gonzalez said he also expects big contributions from freshman Carter Flynn and sophomore Tara McGowan.
Finally, the Panthers have made a concerted effort to become a more tightly knit group, a move motivated by team captain Hahmann after seeing how the rift between the seniors and underclassmen last year was occasionally detrimental to their performance in the pool.
When the team gathered to watch the preseason Plant-Manatee football game on ESPN, Hahmann made a concerted effort to get to know the freshmen. Hahmann said that kind of unity can benefit the team as a whole, even in a highly individual sport like swimming.
With that in mind, the Panthers have found more motivation to succeed than simply seeing their names on a record board in the school cafeteria.
“We have that team feeling. Everyone’s kind of going out of their way to keep it more united,” Hahmann said. “You always do so much better when you’re actually feeling like you’re a team, because you want to do better for your teammates — not just you anymore.”
37th annual City Relays
When: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Where: Bobby Hicks Pool
Host school: Newsome
Last year’s winners: Plant (boys), Academy of the Holy Names (girls)