ASHEBORO — A year ago, the entire Jordan-Matthews swim team could comfortably fit inside of a 2021 Honda Civic.
And they’d still have an extra seat leftover.
But in just her second season as the Jets’ head swimming coach, Morgan Fadely — a former J-M swimmer herself — has completely revamped the program, increasing participation by nearly 400% as the team continues its exponential growth.
The Jets only had seven of its 14 total swimmers participating in a swim meet alongside five other schools — Asheboro, North Davidson, Providence Grove, Trinity and Wheatmore — at the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA last Thursday, where J-M finished fourth in the women’s scoring (3 points) and sixth (last) in the men’s scoring (1 point).
But while the results weren’t quite there for the Jets in their most recent meet, the team’s uptick in numbers — from three swimmers last season to 14 swimmers this season — is arguably even more exciting than what happens in the water.
“That’s a big jump,” Fadely said with a smile following Thursday’s meet. “Part of it was that my two returning swimmers (senior Emma Wieber and junior Ainsley Canipe) just kept bugging their friends about it and a few of them were students from my class, so when they found out we had a swim team, they were like, ‘I want to try,’ and then they tried it and they liked it.”
Last season, Fadely’s sister, Jennah Fadely, won the state title in the women’s 100 breaststroke event with a state-record time of 1:02.11 — and placed second in the women’s 200 IM — at the 2021 NCHSAA 1A/2A Swimming State Championships in Cary.
However, with Fadely having graduated and moved on to swim for Kenyon College in Ohio, this year’s roster has a tad less swimming experience than Morgan Fadely’s used to coaching.
“I only have two returning swimmers, so for the rest of them, it’s their first time learning how to swim competitively,” Fadely said. “We started with the basics and then we built them up to where they are today.”
Naturally, with a sport as nuanced as swimming, it takes some time to figure what events you’ll excel in.
Hence why Fadely has allowed her swimmers to try out new events over the course of the season, including Thursday night, to determine where each of them fits.
“We’re just trying out new things before our conference meet to see what would be the best event to put them in,” Fadely said. “They’ve been doing well.”
Chalk the results of this meet — a fourth- and sixth-place finish — up to the team experimenting with new events.
While there weren’t any event winners for the Jets on Thursday, that didn’t stop Fadely from being excited at the thought of improvement from her swimmers.
“So many of them swam new events tonight for the first time,” Fadely said. “I was impressed by them.”
Fadely said two out of the team’s three men — junior Calvin Conroy (7th, men’s 200 freestyle, 3:55.77; 9th, men’s 100 freestyle, 1:47.29) and junior Weldon Thornton (5th, men’s 400 freestyle, 8:04.62; 8th, men’s 200 freestyle, 4:17.20) — were both trying out new events tonight and that she was “impressed by how hard they worked.”
The same goes for both of the women’s relay teams — women’s 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle relays — consisting of Wieber, sophomore Clara Rojas, sophomore Sarah Dekaney and Canipe, which finished fifth in the 200-meter relay (2:55.53) and sixth in the 400-meter relay (7:19.21).
During the women’s 200-meter freestyle relay, the Jets got off to a tough start on the first leg and found themselves in last place once Canipe dove into the pool.
But with each lap, J-M inched closer and closer to its opponents, snagging sixth place, then fifth from Providence Grove and coming shockingly close to claiming the fourth-place spot from Asheboro after Rojas’ run, but finished just short and came in fifth.
It’s that sort of grit, however, that has Fadely intrigued for what’s to come.
“The girls really stepped up on their relays, so I was proud of them,” Fadely said. “I’m hoping that we’ll do well (in our conference meet), I think it’ll be a pretty even meet for all of the kids involved.”
Canipe had some of the team’s best finishes on the day, placing fifth in the women’s 100-meter backstroke (1:50.59) and eighth in the women’s 100-meter freestyle (1:34.59).
Through five meets this season, Fadely seems satisfied with what her team’s been able to accomplish with so little experience.
The Jets won their lone dual-meet this season against the Ben L. Smith Golden Eagles and have consistently finished in the middle of the pack in some of their larger team meets, like Thursday’s.
But with their new conference, the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A, being a lot smaller this season — consisting of just Seaforth and North Moore — it gives the Jets a path to compete in the conference meet later this month.
And with the Jets’ youth-filled, ever-growing program, it’s all about gradual improvement and, as cliche as it may sound, enjoying themselves.
“I like having so many people with me,” Fadely said. “It’s great seeing the kids enjoy it, even after a hard practice. I’m always like, ‘I don’t know how they feel about this anymore,’ then they get out of the water and they’re like, ‘I had so much fun!’
“As long as they’re having fun,” she added, “I’m having fun.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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