Last year, Mission Prep freshman swimmer Grace Oeser had a small cheering section that included her coach and family as she participated in high school meets.
She was the only Royals student to compete in CIF competitive swimming.
This year, as Oeser glides through the water, she has encouragement not just from a few but from 26 teammates competing with her on the school’s first-ever full swim team.
With recruiting by Oeser and her coach, Lisa Purcell, as well as significant planning, 14 girls and 13 boys make up Mission Prep’s inaugural swim team.
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“It’s great,” Oeser said. “I pretty much asked all my friends to join so I could see them twice during the day. Then, other students got interested. Now, we have a whole cheering section for each other. It’s so much fun.”
The team ranges from students who have swum competitively on local club teams to beginners who didn’t have any meet experience at all before this season.
“I’ve competed on a club team before, but some of the others haven’t,” said Matt Woodle, Mission Prep’s senior captain. “When I heard about it, I wanted to join because it’s great to swim for my school and in high school meets. Coach Lisa is wonderful and gives us all equal attention no matter how much experience we have.”
The squad practices at the city-run Sinsheimer Pool in San Luis Obispo at night, starting with indoor stretching and abdominal exercises.
Arroyo Grande High athletic officials have allowed the Royals some practices at their pool, using their starting blocks, which are crucial to good jumps in races.
Last year, Oeser was eighth in the 100-meter freestyle in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 meet. This season, Oeser has already achieved CIF automatic qualifying times in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles.
The Royals are also close to qualifying for postseason action in the boys 200-meter freestyle relay and the girls 200 freestyle and medley relays.
Purcell said individuals have competed for Mission Prep by themselves in the past. But an actual team has never existed in the school’s 30-year history.
The meets are always at other schools because the Royals don’t have a home pool, though Purcell hopes one day Mission Prep will have a pool to call its own.
“In order for a dream to come true, you have to have a dream,” Purcell said. “So, I have some ideas for it and hope one day to see a pool of our own.”
Royals athletic director Bailey Brown had an initial goal when she was hired in 2011 to form a swim team, and she was approached about coaching by Purcell, whose 9-year-old son, Nicholas, attends Old Mission School and cheers on the team.
“I just really liked how organized and passionate Lisa was and is,” Brown said. “I’m excited about the prospects of our swim team.”
Purcell swam collegiately at Pepperdine. Purcell said that it’s never too late to get into swimming and, though she swam in college, she didn’t start until she was a freshman in high school.
She formerly worked as a “swimming science” graduate assistant at the International Center for Aquatic Research for USA Swimming, studying athletes’ diets and experimenting with the efficiency of various swimsuits.
Purcell often emails her swimmers with diet and vitamins tip and videos of their swim strokes.
“What sets swimming apart from other high school sports is that it can be done throughout one’s lifespan to promote long-term health and wellness,” Purcell said. “Just because a person didn’t grow up swimming their entire youth doesn’t mean they can’t have a later start and experience success in and even beyond high school
“All are a joy to work with,” Purcell said. “We want to help each swimmer be the best they can be.”