Fun is the key to success


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Gar-Field’s seniors, including Andrew Hicks, Kyle Estep and Brett MacLennan, have grown accustomed to winning. In their four years as Indian swimmers, they’ve lost just a single dual meet, at the same time piling up three Cardinal District championships.

But, to a man, they’ll tell you having as much fun as possible with swimming is something they consider their greatest victory.

MacLennan emerged as Gar-Field’s star swimmer a few seasons back, but district titles are won by having very good swimmers throughout the lineup. Gar-Field’s championships, as well as the second-place finish in Tuesday’s 18-team Northwest Region meet, would not have been possible without Hicks and Estep, plus juniors Kyle Edgemon, Ian Grand and Jonathan Orndorff.

The Indians’ talent runs even deeper — sophomore Chris Watson won the district championship in the 200-yard freestyle and swam a leg on the gold medal-winning medley relay — but Hicks, Estep, Edgemon, Grand and Orndorff make up the nucleus of Gar-Field’s fun-loving championship squad.

“At the beginning of the year,” said Grand, “we weren’t sure what we were going to accomplish. But we’re all about enjoying it.”

“We’re like, ‘let’s have fun, and while we’re having fun, let’s swim,'” said Hicks.

Having a good time often consists of Gar-Field’s “victory party,” otherwise known as the “Gatorade shower.”

It consists of the team taking turns dunking their heads in one of those big orange Gatorade coolers. Sometimes someone will suck up some water from the cooler, and spit it at someone else.

While it sounds like a strange ritual, it seems to fit their “have fun at all times” attitude.

“Basically, we just act stupid,” Hicks said.

“It’s a great way to end the meet,” said Orndorff. “It’s another place where we bring the team together as a whole.”

If there’s one thing besides winning this year’s district title that the quintet is proud of, it’s their team bond.

“This sounds corny,” said Hicks, “but we’re like a big family, I guess. We sit together at school, we take the same classes. We’re friends, we don’t just swim together.”

Their friendliness extends beyond their own team, as they found themselves cheering wildly for Stonewall Jackson’s 400 freestyle relay team at the regional championships. The Raiders won their race by three-hundredths of a second, and the Indian boys were so happy they forgot the cheer their own squad, which finished seventh, into the finish line.

Feeling like a family was important coming off of a season in which the Indians had only one senior boy, and a serious lack of leadership.

In a span of five days last winter, the Indians experienced the two biggest losses of their careers: a dual-meet defeat and a second-place finish at the four-team Cardinal District meet. Both of the losses came to rival Woodbridge.

“When you don’t lose,” said Gar-Field head coach Rob Knoeppel, “sometimes you lose the edge. I don’t think those boys believed they could lose. When they did lose twice in five days … we started getting better the day that happened.”

The team renewed its dedication, and set out from that moment to regain the district championship trophy.

“At the beginning of the season, we had our goal set, to win districts,” said Estep.

Now, with the quintet among the Gar-Field contingent heading to the state meet, they’ve got a chance to bring home even more hardware. In the medley relay, Hicks, MacLennan, Edgemon and Grand swam a region-best 1:41.19, a time that was about a second short of a National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association All-American Consideration time standard. If they can match that time, a top-three finish at the state championships is within reach.

“If we can place in the medley, it’ll be like icing on the cake,” Estep said.

Interestingly, Hicks says a high seed doesn’t put additional pressure on the medley relay.

“It relieves a lot of pressure,” he said. “We’ve already proved ourselves. We’re not trying to get there, we’re trying to [match that time].”

Despite losing Tuesday’s regional team championship to E.C. Glass, there is little to be disappointed about this season.

“I wouldn’t say so much we lost that meet as E.C. Glass won it,” Estep said.

Swims like the one the Hilltoppers’ Allen Jamerson turned in, prove their theory. Jamerson, seeded 12th in the 200 freestyle with a 2:02.28, cut his time down to 1:55.78 and jumped up to seventh in the regional meet.

“What can you do about that?” Estep asked.

Gar-Field’s second-place finish in the region was still the best ever for the area’s boys swimming powerhouse.

Among the quintet, each contributes to the team and group in a different way.

Hicks, a backstroke specialist, is bigger than most high school swimmers.

“He swims like a horse,” jokes Estep. “He powers through … but he’d never make a 500. He’d die before 250.”

Orndorff calls Hicks a big team leader, even though all of his teammates laugh at his lame pre-meet speeches.

“He’ll say ‘go fast,'” the guys joke.

The group describes Estep as the brains of the bunch. He won’t say what his GPA is, but the other guys guess it’s around 4.4. He has academic scholarship offers from Georgia, Miami, Pittsburgh and is also considering Virginia, where his sister goes to school.

Like Hicks, who plans to attend either James Madison or Brigham Young, Grand is a self-described slacker.

“Everyone thinks that I’m not as focused,” the sideburn-sporting swimmer said, claiming he’s just “relaxed.”

Edgemon is described by his teammates as the one of the hardest workers they’ve met. Strong in the butterfly, Edgemon will likely assume a strong leadership role next season. So will Orndorff, one of the team’s most confident members.

With Grand, Edgemon, Orndorff and Watson among those returning next season, Gar-Field will again contend for a district title.

Those who are departing are leaving a big void, however. The Indians will miss MacLennan, Hicks and Estep, among others.

But the seniors are proud of what they leave behind.

“I’m so glad this is my senior year,” said Estep. “Last year was a debacle … To know that I helped bring together a district champion, I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

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