Deep Dive into the GALA Swim Team

GALA swimmers at Los Angeles Valley College competing in LA CIF City Sections Finals

Ariani Ray

GALA swimmers at Los Angeles Valley College competing in LA CIF City Sections Finals

While this season has been nothing short of difficult for the swim team, there is a visible amount of growth that can be seen in comparison to the beginning of the season.

Girls Academic Leadership Academy kicked off its swim season without a functioning pool. Without a pool, the swimmers were left doing dryland, otherwise known as land workouts. This included sit-ups, lunges, running, and other forms of physical activity. The team participated in workouts like this for a good two months.

By the time the water pump got fixed and there was no longer still water in the pool, it was finally open for use. But at this point, the team was so far into the season that they were given a single Friday to have practice in the pool. That day, when the swimmers met at the GALA field, the 2022 swim season Coach Mitch Willams told them that the school no longer had a lifeguard. According to several sources, one of those being Ms. Petrich, a swim coach cannot also be the designated lifeguard necessary for pool usage. This means that while yes, the pool was available for swimming, the swim team couldn’t get in the pool for practice.

Finally, after several miscommunications, the team had come to the day of their first swim meet, March 16, 2022. Only the swimmers would learn later that day that, in reality, it wasn’t a meet but an exhibition, and in a way, this was a good thing, but in others, it wasn’t so great.

On the subject of their first meet, there were a number of things that could’ve gone better: the pool could’ve been cleaner for one. Miranda Smith, a sophomore on the GALA swim team recounts their first meet, “The first time we got into the pool, as we were warming up we noticed there was a whole broom in the pool.” Other swimmers mentioned an excess amount of dust on both the pool deck floor and the bleachers. The temperature of the water was also insanely cold, but ultimately the team was just grateful for the opportunity to finally get in the pool. As Coach Willams said in his speech during the sports banquet on Friday, May 19, “This was the first time I saw the girls swim.”

Though there were obvious complications, the team did really well during their first meet, considering they hadn’t swam up until that point. Since points and times weren’t being taken down, there isn’t a formal document tracking which home meets GALA won, but rather based on the placing the swimmers got for each event.

The competition being an exhibition meant that no one took the times of the swimmers, so unless the swimmers remembered to ask what their times were after climbing out of the pool, they wouldn’t be able to see their time.

But, this can also be seen as a pro since it wasn’t an actual meet. The competitions were more like preparation for the real meets than anything else, and with most people on the team having no prior experience in water or swimming, there was a sort of gratitude since these matches wouldn’t count for points towards the school’s overall placement within the division or city.

The way the exhibition meets worked was one school swim team, at a time, would come to the GALA campus, where both the visiting team and the home team would use the Los Angeles High School pool for their meets. The teams began warm-ups at 2:30, giving the teams 30 minutes to practice and dive before the meet started promptly at 3. At actual meets, swimmers would be given their heat, lane, and events. A heat is a way to group who would be swimming at the same time, most often used when there’s a larger number of swimmers per event.

Somewhere between the time of the swim team’s first practice and March 27, the swim team acquired access to a different pool. From then on, they began swimming at E.G.Roberts Aquatic Center from 6:30 to 7:45 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and on Mondays, practice was from 4 to 6 in the evening. The team continued to keep that schedule for the remainder of the season.

After four home meets, the team had finally gotten the hang of everything. The water wasn’t as strikingly cold as it had been at the beginning of the season, the dust had cleared and the team was coming together better than ever. On the last home meet, aka senior night, we wished our two lovely seniors, Olivia Liu and Eugenia Choe, the best and thanked them for their commitment to the team.

On Monday, April 25, the swim team packed into a school bus and made their way to Santee High School for their final meet of the season. This meet was different from the rest in a few ways–while their previous meets were exhibition meets, this meet actually counted towards who qualified for LA CIF City Section Regionals. Every school that GALA had swam against, including Bravo Medical Magnet School which canceled their exhibition meet earlier in April, all competed at this meet. Due to this competition’s importance for qualifiers, timers were taking down every swimmer’s times which for some swimmers was the first time they heard what times they hit. After an exciting day full of relays and cheering, the team left Santee placing second in the division and sending six swimmers to Los Angeles CIF City Sections Qualifiers.

Los Angeles CIF City Section Qualifiers took place the week following Division Finals. So the next Saturday, May 7th, both swim captains – juniors Jillian King and Ella Salim along with senior Eugenia Choe, sophomores Kaelynn Bull, Ariani Ray, and Siga Sakho – made their way to Los Angeles Valley College’s Aquatics Center. Since the meet was at the city level, the pool deck, bleachers, and even the grass patches outside of the aquatics center gate were packed with canopies full of parents, coaches, and swimmers waiting for their designated warm-up time. Promptly after everyone finished warming up, the meet began. The competition began in the morning and ended around noon, as times for events were coming out they were being posted up to see who qualified for finals later that day. Once times and placement were posted for all events and relays, the GALA swim team learned that all six of the swimmers who had previously swam for qualifiers all made it to finals. In the evening, all six students swam again. Though the team didn’t make it to state, this was the first time the GALA swim team has made it to qualifiers and finals.

Overall, this swim season was one for the books for GALA. Hopefully, this streak of accomplishments for the team continues going forward into the 2022-2023 school year and beyond.

Interview with Coach Mitch Willams:
Ray: Where are you from?
Williams: Baltimore, Maryland.
Ray: What school(s) did you attend?
Williams: I went to Loyola Blakefield High School and then I swam at Denison University.
Ray: When did you begin swimming?
Williams: I began competitively swimming when I was six.
Ray: What’s your favorite stroke and event?
Williams: Butterfly and the 200 butterfly.
Ray: What are you bringing to the team?
Williams: Well, I have a ton of swimming experience – racing experience, I’ve been on really, really good teams before so I know what a good, close team is and I hope to copy what I’ve learned from that experience. So, I’ll definitely be bringing a winning and improving mentality.
Ray: What do you hope to gain from being the GALA swim coach?
Williams: I hope to get the team to be highly competitive and to make sure everyone has a good time while getting better.
Ray: Do you have any goals for the team this season or for yourself as a coach?
Williams: Because of the circumstances of the season, I just want everyone to learn more about swimming, learn how to race, and learn all four strokes. Overall just growth on the team, I want to help you guys get to know each other better.
Ray: What are some challenges you’ve faced so far as being the coach at GALA?
Williams: Well we haven’t swum one practice yet and we’re two months into the season. Other than that we’re good, I’d say, everyone works really hard – we practice the most out of every other (GALA) team. We just don’t have a pool.
Ray: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Williams: I like to help people push themselves to do things that they didn’t think they could do.

Fun Questions with Coach Mitch
Ray: When you attended college what did you major in?
Williams: I majored in English. I chose that because I like writing but my real passion is to be an addiction counselor.
Ray: What’s your favorite book?
Williams: “Green Eggs and Ham,” a classic.
Ray: What’s your favorite movie?
Williams: “A Place Beyond the Pines.”
Ray: What’s your favorite sport, aside from swimming, to play and/or watch?
Williams: Football, I’m a Ravens fan, I strongly dislike the Patriots.