For 13 straight years spanning the late 1990s to mid-2000s there was the Our Lady of Good Counsel High School girls’ swimming and diving team and then there was the rest of the Washington, D.C. area.
The Falcon girls were the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving champion from 1996-2008 and won eight straight Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving titles from 2005-12. Good Counsel’s boys have been a top 5 Metros finisher seven of the past eight years, including three consecutive third-place performances. If there was an elite swimmer in their districts, Montgomery County Public Schools coaches admittedly worried he or she would be off to Good Counsel by the time they were freshmen.
But high school sports are cyclical and graduation catches up to even the best programs eventually. After a decade and a half, it seems it’s Good Counsel’s turn to refuel. The Falcon girls’ seventh-place finish at Metros a year ago was their lowest in more than 17 years.
Good Counsel’s reputation has not gone anywhere just yet, though. With two new, but experienced, coaches — seven-year Falcons diving coach Jude Lozapone and last year’s assistant Beth Silva have taken the reins from former seven-year coach Billy Howard — and a brand new approach, the Falcons are busy building a foundation this winter that should have them back to the top of the postseason contenders list in the near future.
“I think Jude and I are on the same page, this year has been much more about rebuilding a sense of team,” Silva said. “We’re not as concerned with wins and losses. We’ve instituted several things that are brand new. We’ve had some mandatory practices, which is new for Good Counsel. We set up team buddies, no one leaves before the meet is over. We’re trying to make policies that make kids work for things and that makes them mean something. Winning [will be] a by-product of that.”
This season was as good a time as any to shake things up. Part of the team’s recent drop has been the inability to recover points lost by major scorers, such as 2007 graduates Colleen Haase (University of Georgia) and Megan Waters (Princeton), three-time Gazette Swimmer of the Year Sarah Haase (2012, Stanford) and most recently, Catherine Mulquin (Notre Dame) and four-time Gazette Swimmer of the Year Jack Conger, a freshman at the University of Texas. Lozapone said the economy has likely played a role in some swimmers’ decisions not to attend private school.
This year’s team, which does include marquee swimmers such as Arizona State and University of South Carolina recruits Brady Welch and Makenzie Miller, is one of Good Counsel’s youngest in recent years, setting the stage for a restructure.
In 2006, longtime coaches and Good Counsel graduates Jim Schlapo and Dave and John Crocker resigned after 19 and 10 years, respectively. The three had major ties to the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club, which helped draw in some of the area’s top talent.
Silva and Lozapone are not as closely tied to one of the nation’s biggest club swimming programs, but do have their own roots in area swimming they hope will help connect them to the community. Lozapone, a former U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying swimmer herself, watched her mother and oldest brother start the Falcons swimming program in the early 1970s and has been involved in swimming since. Silva, who swam for Kenyon College, has been coaching in Montgomery County for 20 years with various Montgomery County Swim League and club teams.
Both agree their strengths in coaching complement each other well to the team’s benefit and said they hope their connections will help them reach athletes and both have developed a system to ensure they maintain communication with any prospective swimmers who have visited the school.
They also hope the team unity this year is focused on will create an atmosphere that will interest friends of current swimmers.
Aside from Welch, who is poised to contend for two individual Metros titles later this month, and Miller, Good Counsel’s swimmers might not have the name recognition it’s had in the past. But Silva and Lozapone said they wouldn’t be surprised if many of this year’s underclassmen are household names in the next couple of years.
Freshmen Tom McGovern (50- and 100-yard freestyle) and Joe Howley (500-yard freestyle, 100-yard breaststroke) have already qualified for Metros and two more, Kaelan Dowdall and Philip Sanders are close to making their Metros marks, each in two events.
“We want to get the program back to where it was, it has a great reputation and I don’t think that’s completely gone,” Silva said.