OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee High School swim season began with a small roster but a large amount of optimism earlier this month.
OHS coach Stephen Neafsey enters a fourth year as coach and admits he continues to strive to improve the program and get the notion in to the head of swimmers that swimming is a year-round sport.
“We have some good kids with some strong wills. Hopefully, with a little more time in the pool we’ll be able to see some improvement,” he said.
Neafsey said he feels the program has made positive strides over the last four years. They have set seven school records in the 22 events the school participates in. He said high expectations, high goals, and high achievements, are the goals of this year’s team.
“I do think we’ve made a lot of gains in the last couple years. We have some great returning swimmers who will try to break their own records this year,” he noted.
Key swimmers for the team this year include three captains, Michael Muros, Nathanael Bean and Aubrie Reister.
“We look strong and they have dedication and commitment. I look forward to see how we compete and stack up for regional. We hope to send a large amount of swimmers there,” the coach added.
Some OHS swimmers compete all year long for Okeechobee High and the Indian River State College teams. A number of the swimmers also compete for the Shockwaves program here in Okeechobee. Some work out on their own and do both jogging and swim laps to keep in shape.
Neafsey said it is very difficult to compete when a swimmer just competes during the swim season. He said the off-season conditioning and work does pay off in the long run.
The schedule this year will include three home meets at the Okeechobee Sports Complex pool. He urges local fans to come out and see the hard work that the team has put in.
Top opponents again this year figure to be coastal powers Jensen Beach and Martin County High School.
“I feel were starting to get the idea across that swimming needs to be more than just a three-month sport. When you keep yourselves in tune and in gear you get yourself going right away,” he noted.
Neafsey said the team should have several regional qualifiers. What he’d like to see is some state qualifiers this year.
He also said some of the swimmers should be encouraged by the career of Katie Van Beek, who was able to compete in college for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
“Swimming is a passion,” he said. “We are not looking at Division I swimmers, but for any swimmer to go to a Division II or III school would be phenomenal. It shows how much they love the sport and the competition.”
Neafsey emphasized that there are still openings on the team and he’d like to have more swimmers come out. He’s extended the deadline for new swimmers until the end of August. He noted that if the team has more swimmers to compete in more events, the team’s chances of winning improve.
“I know everyone is busy with academics, extra-curricular clubs, band and everything that is going on. It would be great to see kids take an interest in a worldwide sport. I think we are promoting life-long skills here and we’d like more swimmers to take part,” he added.
Neafsey said any student who decides to join the swim team won’t regret that decision.
“I’m willing to work with them regardless if they have no experience or a little experience,” he said. “I’ve worked with people from age three to even the elderly and I feel we can get something done with these new kids.”
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News