By Jonathan E. Coleman
The first season for any sports team almost always presents its share of challenges, but when the sport is swimming, those challenges are multiplied.
In addition to filling the roster and building team unity, Hickory Ridge High School swim coach Debbie Benfield faced the challenge of finding a place for the team to swim and coordinating a practice schedule with other area swim teams.
The most important challenge, Benfield said was uniting the 22 swimmers.
“The biggest thing was making them feel like a team,” she said. “Some of them had swum together and some of them hadn’t. I don’t care about winning and losing. I just want to kids to get together.”
And while Benfield said winning wasn’t the most important thing, it wasn’t nearly as far-fetched as some might have imagined for the first-year team.
At the South Piedmont 3A conference meet last week, the boy’s team put up a solid performance.
“The boys finished third,” Benfield said, “which is great because this is our first year in the conference. We’re proud of them.”
Freshman Adam Mulchi said the accomplishment is even more impressive because there are no seniors on the team.
“It’s been a really good team,” he said. “We’ve all really come together. Coming from a private school in Charlotte, I didn’t know many people. Swimming together every day for an hour and a half gets you pretty close. These are friends I’ll have through all my years of high school.”
Mulchi is one of three boys named an All-Conference swimmer in the Ragin’ Bulls first season.
The girls team faced a much more difficult road as it consisted of only eight swimmers.
“The way you score points is to fill all the slots on the roster,” Benfield said. “Having only eight girls, we couldn’t fill all those slots.”
As such, many girls had to step up and fill leadership roles.
“It feels a little overwhelming at times,” said Jesseeca Nguyen, a sophomore on the team. “Last year I wasn’t a go-to girl, but this year I am. Being a young team, we take it into our own hands to help all we can.”
Nguyen said the Ragin’ Bulls’ first season was a success in that the team built a name for itself, but she added that many teams still don’t give them the respect she feels they deserve.
“I hope to make a name for Hickory Ridge,” she said. “We’ve always been the underdogs. I think we have a lot of potential.
“I think we’ll still have that underdog effect (next year). I think we have amazing potential, and when we get more people, we’ll have really great potential.”
Part of what Benfield hopes will make both the boy’s and girl’s teams more successful is getting the word out about the team during the off season and building the numbers heading into next season.
“We’ve already told them it’s up to them to get their friends involved,” she said.
• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at [email protected] or 704-789-9105.