Falmouth High swim coach Paul Druchniak talks to his team a during practice at Greely High last week. The Falmouth team typically swims at the Casco Bay YMCA in Freeport, but it can’t use that pool this season because of COVID safety protocols. Falmouth is one of four schools using Greely’s pool this season, along with Yarmouth, Waynflete and host Greely. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

CUMBERLAND — For Falmouth High senior Patrick Gill, the colors are all wrong.

Maroon and white flags are strung across both ends of the pool, warning swimmers doing the backstroke of the impending wall. Banners and record boards are also maroon and white, which is to be expected inside a building that also houses Greely High School.

“The rivalry still stands,” Gill said before a recent evening practice for the neighboring Falmouth High swim team, “but we’re grateful for Greely that they could provide us with this pool.”

Falmouth is one of four high school swim teams making use of the Greely pool this season, along with Yarmouth, Waynflete of Portland and the host Rangers. The pools at three local YMCA facilities (Freeport, Portland, Biddeford) normally used by high school teams are off limits because of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Two years ago, Gill and his Falmouth teammates practiced 75 minutes each weekday afternoon at the Casco Bay Y in Freeport. This season they have use of the Greely pool for an hour three nights a week, supplemented with a weekend session at the Westbrook Community Center’s Davan Pool.

On Saturday, Falmouth hosted a dual meet in Cumberland at noon and then held a mid-afternoon practice in Westbrook. The swimmers wrapped up their long day with a pizza dinner back in Falmouth.

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“It was a very busy Saturday of swimming,” said first-year head coach Paul Druchniak. “The kids spent about eight hours together. It was a fun time, and we certainly didn’t grind yards in practice.”

“There’s definitely more of an appreciation for how valuable practice time is,” Gill said. “Last year we only had practices at Westbrook once a week on Sundays.”

Patrick Gill, a senior at Falmouth High, pauses during practice at the Greely High pool. “There’s definitely more of an appreciation for how valuable practice time is,” he says. “Last year we only had practices at Westbrook once a week on Sundays.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Last year’s meets were largely virtual affairs as well, with coaches submitting and then comparing times. Pandemic restrictions meant the elimination of state championship meets, normally held at the University of Maine in Orono and Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

The plan this winter is to hold in-person meets culminating in spectator-free state championship meets over two days at Richards Community Pool in Cape Elizabeth on Feb. 21 (Class A boys at 10:30 a.m. and Class B boys at 5:30 p.m.) and Feb. 22 (Class A girls in the morning and Class B girls in the evening).

After a season with only virtual competition, the real thing is a welcomed change.

“Some swimmers respond better to racing against somebody,” said Greely coach Rob Hale. “It’s hard to create a competitive, intense atmosphere when it’s just your team.”

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Not that Hale didn’t try. His team employed pots and pans and officials relaxed the prohibition on artificial noisemakers.

“When you’re swimming against other teams, you have motivation,” said Falmouth junior Eden Marley. “But it’s still fun, because we’re cheering each other on. If you didn’t drop time in your event, you can still celebrate someone else.”

Eden Marley, a junior at Falmouth High, is glad to have in-person competitions against other teams this season. Last winter, high school swim meets in Maine were virtual events. “When you’re swimming against other teams, you have motivation,” she says. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The first weekend of in-person meets this season brought a few surprises. Perhaps most notable was a dual-meet victory by the Deering-Portland boys (the schools merged their swim programs a year ago amid the pandemic) over city rival Cheverus, whose eight-year reign atop Class A appears unlikely to continue.

Olivia Pickering, who took over as head coach of Cheverus when Kevin Haley retired, said she has only eight boys this winter, “but they are competitive, hard-working and have amazing attitudes.”

Near the end of the Falmouth practice, Yarmouth Coach David Cox showed up with his team in preparation for the 9:20-10:20 p.m. time slot. He, too, expressed appreciation for the hospitality.

“We are very thankful to Greely and Rob Hale for making our season possible,” Cox said. “And it’s a nice pool.”

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The fact that swimming is largely a co-ed sport that includes members from ninth through 12th grades appeals to many of its participants, including Falmouth junior Katrina Waite, who also swims for a club team in Westbrook.

“Other sports can be segregated by varsity and JV teams,” she said. “In swimming we’re all together, maybe divided by lane, but all together. I love becoming closer with teammates from grades above and below me.”

She paused and remembered last winter’s disjointed experience, which for her involved only two practices with her Falmouth teammates.

“It’s nice to be together again,” she said.

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