For all but one member of the Kingston High School girls’ swim team, the season is over. For Tiger senior Taylor Robey, there is still work to be done.
Robey will be the Tiger swim team’s sole representative in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association meet at Ithaca College this weekend after taking first place in the 100-yard freestyle at the Section IX qualifying meet earlier this month.
It’s been a whirlwind final season in the pool for Robey, culminating at the sectional tournament with a school record in the 100 in Valley Central’s pool on Saturday, Nov. 5 when she finished with a time of 53.37. She’d already hit the state standard two days earlier finishing in 54.34 during the preliminaries. Robey is undefeated in the section in the 100 free this season, though in Ithaca she’s mostly hoping to break her own personal best.
“I’m placed 26th in the state, but not everyone is swimming the 100 freestyle, so I’m seeded 18th,” said Robey, adding that she likes the idea of swimming in the 11-20 race in the preliminaries and improving her position for the finals.
“I’d love to better my time from sectionals and get closer to a 52,” she said. “That’d be amazing. I would cry my eyes out.”
Robey nearly made the state cut in the 50-free as well, finishing eight-hundredths of a second behind Abigail Santos of New Paltz in the sectionals. Robey’s time of 25.01, a personal best, wasn’t quite fast enough to meet the state standard on its own. Even so, short distances are where Robey shines.
“I do like the sprints,” she said. “I had a dark year where I did the 200 and 500, but I don’t like to think about that. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and that’s what the team needed me to do. Freestyle is my stroke, and I like the 50 and the 100. I’ve swum the 100 backstroke before and I really like that, but usually during the season I don’t swim the backstroke.”
Robey has been a member of the varsity swim team for the past six years, and has been swimming for much longer.
“I’ve always loved the water ever since I was a baby and I was in the YMCA swimming classes,” she said. “I used to swim at Williams Lake, but then it closed so we joined the Hurley Rec pool to swim there. It ended up that they had a swim team. I didn’t know anything about it and I was about nine or 10, so I started pretty late compared to everybody else. And I thought, ‘I can swim, that’ll be fun.’ I had been (swimming for) the Kingston Hurricanes, and I thought it would be fun. And six years later … ”
Robey, who was also a drum major with the KHS Tiger Marching Band and plans to major in music education in college, said her senior season in the pool hasn’t always been easy, partly because she knew it would be her last.
“This year I definitely felt that push,” she said. “Sometimes it got a little stressful and I had to remind myself why I swim. You can ask any swimmer, practices are not the most fun. You can hear a chorus of moans in the locker room before a practice. But the best feelings are the races when you touch somebody out, the team is going crazy, the fans are going crazy, the coach is hopping up and down. That’s why I swim. I don’t swim for any other reason.”
Robey said being the lone Tiger left from the girls’ team has made practicing for the state tournament a sometimes solitary experience, as her teammates have moved on from the season.
“I think they were all so happy for me that I made states, and so supportive,” she said. “But you kind of want to relax [when the season is over.] ‘It’s time to go to the pool…Oh, wait: I can go home!’ Of course a lot of them went on to club practices. The season is very long. We start Aug. 15, and everyone else the sectionals ended on [November] 3rd or 5th. That can be kind of sad.”
Robey added that because Ithaca is so far away, she doesn’t expect she’ll see any of her fellow Tigers at the state tournament. Even so, she feels their support.
“I know they’ll be cheering me on from home and refreshing the Section IX website over and over,” she said.
But Robey is also not alone in the pool. In addition to having Coach Chris Sammons to work with, the pool at Kate Walton Field House is still very much in use.
“The boys team has been trying out for the past two weeks, so I’ve been practicing with them,” said Robey. “I get my own lane, and they’ve been wonderful. They’re just so sweet and cool about it. The coach has to split his time between them and myself.”
But Robey isn’t exactly going it alone even in competition. Unlike some sports, where rivals are sometimes considered the enemy, Robey said there’s been a real sense of community among the swimmers from the schools in Section IX. And that means more goodbyes.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Robey said. “I’ve been competing against for of the girls on the other teams for years. We all have such a camaraderie. The Section IX state team last year, I thought, ‘We should have a pasta dinner.’ And so we organized this huge pasta dinner including all the teams, and we all had a great time. We made shirts. We’re doing that again this year. And it’s really sad, because we’re all going our separate ways.”
Robey, who has been a member of the YMCA Hurricanes club team in the past, isn’t sure whether she’ll be able to find the time to swim competitively before graduating. She’s focusing on college applications and has been working her way through a number of schools as she narrows down her choices. Swimming in college is also a possibility, though Robey said she knows she may have to stay firm in her priorities.
“Music education can be a demanding and grueling major,” she said. “I’ll be busy. But I know some of my schools have said the music department works well with the athletic department, and they’ve made it clear that they’ll support me in both. If I can, I will. But in the end I’m going to college to get a career, and swimming for four years is not going to make a career for me.”
Robey, who has no siblings, ran track in the spring during her freshman year at KHS, and has been a member of the crew team ever since. And she added that she also views marching band as a sport. But she admits it’s going to be particularly difficult to say goodbye to the swim team.
“I’ve loved being a Tiger and taking pride in it,” she said. “It’s nice being able to walk around and know that we’re 9-1 [on the season], I’m part of the thousand-point club this year, and I have an individual record and two relay records. It makes you feel like you weren’t just a head in the crowd at high school.”