Grace Cross and Mattie Embrey became close friends during freshman year of high school. They formed a bond as members of MHS’ girls swim team.
As they stepped out of the water following their final home meet on Saturday, they reflected on the memories. The friendships. The competition. The sport itself.
They realized swimming had done much more for them than they anticipated when they started four years ago.
“Without this sport I wouldn’t have one of my best friends that I’ve ever had,” Embrey said with Cross at her side. “I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without her or without this team. I really appreciate that this is somewhere where I’ve consistently been able to be all four years of high school despite whatever else is going on. I can always come here and know that I’ve got a team that will support me.”
That support was clear on Saturday at the Montrose Recreation Community Center as MHS was hosting its second and final home meet of the season. The team’s seven swimmers were vocal during events. Some watched at the other end of the pool and lent motivating words during turns.
It helped lead to Montrose’s 110-point day, which featured some highlights — Alise Hardie’s impressive run in the 500-yard freestyle, Violet Noel’s star turn in the girls 1 meter dive and the work of Cross and Embrey.
“All the girls stepped up and did a good job,” Montrose coach Laurie Hadley said. “They worked really hard this week so their times were a bit slower, but that was expected. It was just a good meet. They did great.”
Hardie looked like a natural, swimming well ahead of her competition in the 500. She had a quick pace and was even better on her flip turns, where she gained a considerable edge. The result was a first-place finish as she came in nearly 10 seconds faster than Ellie MacPherson of Glenwood, who finished second.
“I got pretty tired, but (the event) was good overall,” Hardie said. “I was very proud of myself when I got in.”
Hardie’s effort was the latest in a string of high-achieving performances this season. She’s one of Montrose’s most consistent swimmers and has become a leader alongside Cross and Embrey, Hadley said. Her work ethic during practice stems from Embrey and Cross raising the bar.
“Mattie and Grace both practice and work hard,” Hadley said. “They’ve been two leaders of the team and girls look to them for advice or inspiration. They’re going to be missed next year.”
Fittingly, Cross and Embrey both look to one another for inspiration, considering the toll the sport can have on swimmers.
“Swimming is a very, very hard and frustrating sport,” Embrey said. “You get in your head a little bit after a while. If we didn’t have such a supportive home base and group since my freshman year, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today. We have such a strong relationship with the people on our team and there isn’t a single person on the team that I would feel uncomfortable talking to or asking for advice. We all have each other’s backs in that way.”
The chemistry has grown among the group for this year’s team. They’ve enjoyed some early success, including from some relays in December and Hardie’s strong start. Noel, who finished first on Saturday with a score of 367.96, ahead of Lily Rath’s 285.30, qualified for state last Thursday during a meet in Gunnison. She also qualified for state last season.
The early highlights, growing camaraderie and near-state qualifying finish last season are reasons why the team’s aspirations to qualify for state are heightening.
In fact, the girls have been using last winter’s regional finish as a baseline for what they can accomplish.
“It’s been really motivating to know that we can do it,” Hardie said. “We were so close and we had a shot at it. It shows that the possibility is there.”
The 200-yard freestyle relay team — Kate Donohoe, Ariana Najar, Cross and Hardie — finished sixth on Saturday. They finished the event at 2:10, below their season-best of 1:59, though Hadley expected a slower day.
That same group finished eighth in the 200-yard medley relay. Cross and Najar finished sixth and seventh in the 100-yard backstroke.
After Saturday, Hadley said the group forming the 200-freestyle relay has an inside shot of qualifying for state. The 200-medley relay also has a chance, if the overall time improves.
Cross and Embrey agree the group’s stamina must improve before regionals. It’s expected to be a focus across the final four meets.
“Part of the reason I love the sport is the community and the team that you find,” Cross said. “The swimming part is awesome and I love that but it’s really about the people that you do it with. All four years I’ve had such an amazing team. We’re all so supportive of each other and it’s fun to be together and challenge ourselves to do our best.”
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press