High School Swimming

IT’S GOING SWIMMINGLY

Taylor girls swim team establishing culture of success

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 2/4/21

Following the graduation of senior Emma Sticklen, Taylor swim coach Matt Apple gave his girls team something to think about going into this season.

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High School Swimming

IT’S GOING SWIMMINGLY

Taylor girls swim team establishing culture of success

Posted

Following the graduation of senior Emma Sticklen, Taylor swim coach Matt Apple gave his girls team something to think about going into this season.

“We challenged them,” said Apple, in his 10th year at the helm of the Mustangs. “‘Does Emma define us?’ As great as she was, can we be successful without her? And not to take anything away from her, because she’s the greatest swimmer I’ve ever coached, but the other girls have stepped up. They don’t want their legacy to be where we lost one girl and the team cratered.”

The Mustangs answered in resounding fashion. For as terrific as Sticklen was—and the current Texas Longhorn standout swimmer was remarkably terrific as a two-time state champion in the 100-yard backstroke, a state silver medalist in the 100-yard butterfly and a member of Taylor’s state silver medalist 200-yard medley relay—the Mustangs may actually be better this season.

“We definitely lost the leader of our team, but we knew what we were capable of, even without her,” senior Abbie Alvarez said. “We were pretty confident in what we could accomplish. I feel like we’ve all come together to fill her role. It wasn’t just one person. It’s been a team effort.”

An impressive effort, too. As the Mustangs head into the Region V-6A swim meet on Friday at the Cy-Fair ISD Natatorium, they come off a thoroughly dominant performance at the District 19-6A meet two weeks ago. Taylor won 20 of 22 events, including all relays, in claiming its third consecutive team district championship. Alvarez, who competes in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, was named Athlete of the Meet.

Perhaps more noteworthy is that these Mustangs are not surprised at all by their success this year, thanks to a talented and determined senior class. They expected it.

“Our freshman year, we had six great girls,” said senior Kat Pashen, a district champion in the 50 freestyle and runner-up in the 100 freestyle. “You had Emma as a sophomore then, and we were just good from the start. Even with Emma gone, I feel like we still had a strong team.”

Not only does Apple have an elite senior nucleus of talent like Alvarez (University of Houston signee), Taylor Schababerle (Washington State signee), Emma Clark (South Dakota signee) and Pashen, he has a tough-minded, experienced group that knows and appreciates what it takes to win.

“In terms of high school swimming, they don’t know anything else other than success,” Apple said. “The year before Emma, none of our teams made it to state. When these seniors came in as freshmen, they made it instantly. Relays, individuals. For these girls, their three years here so far, they’ve always made it to state. It’s very much their expectation that this is what they do.”

When these seniors were freshmen, the Mustangs placed fifth as a team at state. In 2019 and 2020, Taylor placed fourth each time at state. A standard has been established.

Pashen believes if one of the relay teams had not been disqualified at regionals last season, the Mustangs could’ve easily gotten third at state. Schababerle said underclassmen have performed beyond their years and given the team significant, quality depth, a boon to a no-nonsense senior class that yearns to bring home another decorative flag from state awarded to each team that finishes in the top five.

“We’ve all watched each other grow up and we’ve encouraged each other to do better and keep working,” said Schababerle, who competes in the 200 and 500 freestyles. “Seeing your friends work hard and do better makes you want to work hard and do better. It has to come from within, but we all have it. That makes it better.”

The Mustangs have needed that guile and moxie, particularly during a weird rollercoaster season thanks to COVID-19.

This season, Taylor has had practices split between athletes who are doing virtual learning and those who are doing in-person learning. It has made it difficult for relay teams to practice. Many practices have been canceled altogether because of COVID-19 protocols. Athletes have been in and out of action because of contact tracing.

Because of the limited numbers, practices have been shorter. Training has not been as rigorous or consistent as it generally is.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Mustangs’ campus pool was unusable for three weeks because of issues with the water temperature. Taylor had to practice at Morton Ranch High School in the meantime.

Apple said he’s surprised the team is at this point of its season. He figured either the school would have been shut down already because of the pandemic or the UIL might have shut down sports by now like it did last spring.

“The fact that we’re in the middle of our postseason is awesome,” Apple said. “It’s been hard dealing with the pandemic. There hasn’t been a sense of team, or unity. All the stuff you do outside of the pool for team building, you can’t do. The girls usually have sleepovers and the boys hang out together and play video games, and none of that is going on. It’s very different.

“The fact they’ve stayed mentally focused is a testament to their experience. They know what to do, they know how to maintain.”

That, they always know they can fall back upon.

“We have a culture of hard work and we want it,” Schababerle said. “We train hard for what we want. We don’t just goof around all day. When you win, you want it again. Like, we won it last year, we’re going to win it again this year. Coach cultivates that, because he makes us aware it’s the work ethic that drives us.”

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