SAN ANTONIO – Last year, the District 27-6A girls swimming and diving team title was decided by two points. The squad from Health Careers High School was on the wrong end of that differential and watched as perennial power Brandeis once again celebrated with a plaque on deck at Northside Aquatic Center.
Those two points provided all of the motivation the Phoenix needed to get back in the water.
“Last year was really disappointing because we had worked so hard, and this year we had that goal inside of us to really do our best again,” junior Suchi Pagadala said. “We pushed ourselves as hard as we could.”
One year later, Health Careers flipped the script. Even with only 13 swimmers on the roster, the Phoenix won three individual events, two relays and posted 159 combined points. That was just enough to edge out the defending champion Broncos by five points. For the first time in program history, Health Careers had won the district title.
The shock and excitement of victory was so new, head coach Will Scofield had to explain the tradition of pushing the coach into the pool to celebrate.
“I think we were all scared, of course, especially the seniors,” said senior Bea Martin. “We’ve wanted this for so long, but I think we all knew what we were capable of, and we knew that we worked really hard through the whole season. I think we all just went in believing we could do it.”
“Winning districts was like a fever dream,” junior Franke Makilan recalled. ”It was something that we knew we could do, but we still had to work hard. We actually attained our goal, and we all came together as a team to really push through to win.”
Senior Jenna Copes proved invaluable throughout the competition. She won both of her individual events, the 200 yard Freestyle (1:54.67) and 100 yard Freestyle (53.99), and contributed impressive splits on the district champion 200 yard Medley and 200 yard Freestyle Relays. Meanwhile, Makilan touched first in the 100 yard Breaststroke, leading a wave of four Phoenix swimmers who scored a whopping 27 points in that event alone.
Those performances are just a few examples of the results of the team’s hard work and dedication during the uncertainty of a pandemic.
“There were some days where we couldn’t be in the water, and that was definitely hard on us,” Martin explained. “I think we made the most of what we could do, and it definitely paid off in the end.”
TONIGHT on #InstantReplay: The Health Careers (@nisdhchs) girls swim team celebrates the first District Championship in program history - hear from the team on their breakthrough moment! #KSATsports @NISD_Athletics @NISD @InstantReplaySA pic.twitter.com/4FJIYGpxcZ— Andrew Cely (@ACelySports) February 1, 2021
“We’ve really grown,” Copes said. “We’ve focused a lot more on our goals, both academic and swimming, and we’ve become closer. We’re definitely more of a family than when we started. We’re all here at practice every day. We all swim club together, too, so we’re constantly around each other before school, during school and after school.”
Now, the team sets their sights on this week’s UIL Class 6A Regional meet. In 2020, the Phoenix’s Medley Relay posted the second-fastest time from the San Antonio area and qualified for State. This year, all four swimmers on that relay - Pagadala, Makilan, Martin and Copes - are faster than ever, and they’re looking for more.
Regardless of what the future holds, this group has left an indelible mark on the Health Careers program, and their accomplishments will live forever in the hearts and minds of everyone involved.
‘I’m really hoping they remember this moment of all of us together as a team, a family, winning that title,” Martin said. “I really hope that continues over into the next few years, even to the freshmen that just joined. I want them to feel like, ‘Yeah, I can work hard again, and we can do it again.’ I believe in them.”
This year’s Region VII-6A meet will be held at Bill Walker Pool. Competition is set to begin with prelims on Wednesday at 10 a.m.