Reed takes hold of Chargers’ uncertain season, propels them to unlikely success

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CARY — It might not have been a fairytale ending for the Northwood women’s swimming team at the NCHSAA 3A Swimming and Diving State Championships last Friday, but they wrote one heck of an unlikely script.

The Chargers proved they belong among the state’s elite swimming circles, claiming a 3rd-place team finish to go along with a pile of individual and relay hardware.

But don’t tell them they are overachievers or talk about a Cinderella season. They worked hard to get into the upper ether against odds that would have made a lesser ensemble wither into also-rans.

They’ve had a revolving door of coaches. With the current season about to start in November, they still didn’t have a mentor.

They finally found a coach, but she had no high school coaching experience.

The Chargers don’t even have a home pool to practice in.

They have one of the smallest rosters in the state.

For a substantial portion of the team, this was their first real-feel season since the COVID pandemic cast a long shadow last year.

But what the Chargers did have was heart and a motivation to excel.

“I’m just really proud of the swimmers,” said Northwood coach Rebecca Reed, who plied the pool for the James Madison University swim team during her collegiate career, and later coached some youth teams.

“It was my first year coaching high school, definitely a big learning experience,” Reed said. “The team is small, especially our boys. We only had six boys on the team, total. On the girls we had 14, but we have a lot of depth on the girls team, a lot of really fast swimmers.”

So she had some talent. But what about a facility?

“That’s one of the uphill battles we’re facing,” she said. “There’s no pool space in Pittsboro. The kids were driving to the Ingram Family YMCA in Sanford two nights a week for one hour, which is just not enough time” for improving skills — never mind the 20-mile one-way trek.

Because she grabbed the coaching vacancy lifesaver two weeks before the season opened, she didn’t have a chance to reserve more practice nights and lanes. That had already been negotiated.

Securing more lanes and days is one of her biggest goals for next year.

That’s right. She plans to be back.

“One of the things that I learned this year is none of the kids have had any sort of continuity in the coaches,” Reed said. “Towards the end of the season I started talking with the sophomores and the juniors about how we can grow the team, and get more kids to join, and figure out how to replace the seniors.”

Eight of the 14 women swimmers are seniors.

Reed said she was excited for her second season after overcoming a steep learning curve from an administrative and team management perspective.

“It feels silly to let that go and not take that into another season,” she said. “It was great to be around the kids again. It’s been a while since I coached. We’ve got a lot of different personalities. … We had a lot of really great attitudes about improvement. Everybody was really receptive to feedback, supportive of each other, supportive of the team and happy to be there. They were a really good and awesome team to coach this year.”

While none of the boys qualified for states, Reed said they put in a lot of hard work and improved over the course of the season. Some of the boys who participated for the first time also play spring and fall sports. They learned a thing or two about being in the water.

“Swimming is not easy. I think there’s a misconception that it is,” Reed said. “You can play at a beach, and you can play at a pool. But swimming can use muscles that you’re not used to working, so it can be humbling for a kid who doesn’t have that background to try to come and swim year-round.”

Senior Julia Earnshaw flexed her swimming muscles on Friday, but found getting into the right mindset was more challenging than the obstacles the team has faced.

“I just really wanted to go out on a good note, and just swim the best that I can,” Earnshaw said. She worked hard “to get myself in a place where I didn’t stress out about what place we got, just really have fun, so I could remember a good memory instead of a stressful memory.”

Capping the uncommon season with a 3rd place team finish should be a memory she and her teammates can cherish for a long, long time.

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