Ben Smith knows just how to handle a swim season in the midst of a global pandemic.
"It's kind of nice to have the experience from the fall season," Smith, Jamestown High School head swimming and diving coach, said. "We kind of know what works and what doesn't. Going forward, we just altered a few things in terms of practices. We're super excited and ready to go."
Smith finished out the fall season with the girls swimming and diving team on Nov. 14 at the state meet in Bismarck where the Jays ended up 13th out of 17 competing teams. The Blue Jay boys team began practices on Nov. 30, adopting similar protocols when speaking of COVID-19.
The Jays are holding split practices -- one in the morning and two in the afternoon -- in order to limit crowding in the pool. Smith said he is only allowing 16 athletes in the pool at one time in efforts to practice social distancing. Smith said coaches will also be masked when interacting with athletes in the pool.
"We had great energy yesterday," Smith said of the team's first day of practice. "Everybody's really excited to get back in the pool and start working hard."
Smith's slew of athletes are coming off a strong finish at the 2019 state meet where they finished ninth out of 14 competing teams. The Jays' lost Luca Flann to graduation. Flann anchored both the 200-yard medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay to sixth-place finishes. He placed 13th overall in the 100 free and 14th overall in the 50 free.
The Blue Jays also lost Jarron Waldie who was a factor on last season's 200 medley relay.
"It's tough every year to see what the team will look like as we lose people to graduation, but our team stacks up pretty well right now," Smith said. "We're returning nine state qualifiers -- which is a lot -- so we are really excited about that."
Noah Haglund, a senior for the Jays, broke his own school record in the last season's state 'A' finals with a swim of 54.49 seconds. Haglund placed third, edging out West Fargo Sheyenne's Vaughn Raimo (54.53) at the wall. Haglund also won the 200 free 'B' final in 1:51.33.
Haglund is one of five Blue Jay seniors returning to the pool for the 2020-21 season -- slated to start Thursday (Dec. 17) with the Jays hosting Bismarck High at 5 p.m.
Seniors Kaden Schmidt, Chandlar Rott and Garret Wright are among the nine state qualifiers from last season. Luke Plaguens will also be assuming a leadership position, leading the 48 rostered athletes to some high finishes this winter.
Smith also returns Caleb Fabian, Alex Goodrie, Bodi Haglund, Brayden Schmeichel and Teddy Solensky -- all of whom made a splash at the 2019 state meet. Smith said he likes having the wealth of experience when facing the unprecedented circumstances the pandemic has delivered.
"All the boys work really well together," Smith said. "Just to see all their hard work pay off really levels everyone up."