The 36th Annual Willowood Invitational, featuring 13 teams, was the first of two meets in a four-day span for the Willowood Bluefins as they closed out the regular season.
The invitational began at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12, and lasted well into the night with swimmers ranging from 4-years-old to 46-years-old. Division A, B and C teams all participated in the event as well.
Coach Dan Mikula and his swimmers enjoyed having the opportunity to swim in an unconventional setting.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s very different for the kids to swim at night. There is a lot of excitement about that. It’s a totally different vibe and environment. The pool even looks different. The kids look forward to it every year,” Mikula said.
Willowood eventually came out on top with a team score of 1285.5. Second place Falcon Swim Club/Lebanon YMCA finished with 828.5 points.
The chance to face different swimmers and levels of competition at an invitational provides the Willowood coaching staff a chance to measure their ability against teams that they do not often face.
“The swimmers get used to seeing a lot of the same swimmers year in and year out. When we have the open invitational we have a lot of different swimmers from all over the place coming in. It revitalizes things a little bit,” Mikula said.
One swimmer that many of them do not often get to compete against is Mikula himself. He swam in the boys 15 and over 50-meter freestyle against athletes ranging from 15-38 and posted a 30.51.
“I enjoy it. It’s fun to get in there and it’s neat for the kids even though I may not be the fastest these days. Being a father, being a coach and being able to let them know that you can continue to be an athlete in any way, shape or form is fun,” Mikula said.
After having a few days to recover, the Willowood swimmers, minus Mikula, were back in the pool on Saturday, July 15, but were technically the visiting team and Heatherfield hosted the meet.
Despite the loss, 590-441, Mikula thought that his team had an “unbelievable” performance against Heatherfield. They finished the season 2-2 with victories against Devon Crest and Palmyra and a loss to Hershey mixed in.
“These kids came together this year. We had a lot of knew families come in which was really cool. At first it is a challenge because you have to try and get them integrated into the system, but it speaks volumes to the program that we have. The veteran swimmers that we have welcomed those kids in and they go from being complete strangers to, within a week or two, being a part of the program,” Mikula said.
Divisionals, which are hosted at Palmyra, will begin Saturday, July 22, with All-Stars the following day. The meet presents some unique challenges in that it will become more individualized, Mikula said. Swimmers will choose their own events and the coaching staff will put the relay teams together.
“While there is a team score it is a totally different approach to it because it is individual. They are going to be swimming against all of the teams in the A Division and it boils down to who has the fastest times in the A Division, individually,” Mikula said. “It is going to be a different prep for it rather than looking at it as how do we approach this as a team. It’s how do we prepare each of the swimmers for the events that they chose to swim.”
Full meet results can be found here.