With just 21 competitive swimmers, in total, on their roster, the Valley East Waves must remain realistic when setting goals, individually, and as a team.
Capture the small team high point banner at the Dave Kensit Memorial Meet in Sault Ste Marie on the weekend? Check.
Qualify a VESC swimmer for Olympic Trials in April? Check.
With 22 years of coaching experience with the club now under her belt, Sharon Leger has walked this path before. And she has no intentions of wandering off into the sunset, any time soon.
"You've always got new kids coming in and they bring a new excitement," said Leger at practice in late January, her team preparing for the northern Ontario showdown and tradition that is the annual Kensit Meet.
"There's always a new challenge to face."
More than anything, Leger takes pride in the team bond that exists with the Waves, one that is shared both by the swimmers, themselves, and even their families. "We have a lot of good support, from swimmer to swimmer, really good morale, in that way," she said. "And we've got a group of younger kids that are starting to see that they can go somewhere too, which is nice."
Travelling to a meet in January in Markham with just five swimmers, Leger noted that she had only one who qualified for the finals. Yet in an evening session in which none of the four remaining teammates were swimming, it was the Waves representation, parents and swimmers and siblings, that were among the noisiest in a fairly empty grandstand area.
On that day, their support would benefit 16 year old Alexandre Landry, the first VESC swimmer in quite some time to qualify with an Olympic Trials standard time. "Going into the meet, I wasn't sure," said the grade 11 student at Ecole Secondaire Hanmer. "I was hoping I could make Eastern Nationals standard."
"But after my 100m breaststroke preliminaries, I was only 0.15 seconds off from making the Trials. I knew that I just need to push the first 50m a little more, and then go hard on the second fifty."
This has been quite a change of mindset for the talented teen, who attended Junior Nationals in Calgary last summer and was one of the very few who would actually see his times improve, despite swimming at altitude. The time had come to really throw himself into his swim training, to tackle the more exigent workload that goes hand in hand with dreams of being among the top-end swimmers in the country.
"Starting last summer, I trained in a bit of a different environment than ever before," said Landry. "I was focused on swimming more than anything else. I became more aware of other elite swimmers, watching the International Swimming League, watching their technique and how they swim."
It's all with an eye of the continued development of his breaststroke.
"I've been focusing more on the pull and the underwater pullout, because that's one of my weaknesses," stated Landry. "I have a really strong kick, already, which everyone tells me all the time. But when I was younger, I got disqualified and then got scared, and now I don't always push hard enough."
Like it or not, Landry now serves as a role model for up and coming Waves, newcomers such as Evan Hull, enjoying his first foray into the more competitive scene, after spending about four years, on and off, with the club.
"I wanted to try competitive, but I wasn't really sure about joining the team here, so I joined the competitive team at my school (Confederation Secondary)," said the 14 year old grade nine student. "It was so much fun that I figured I would try it with the Waves. This is even more fun, with bigger meets and better meets all over the place."
And while it may be a while before Hull can go stroke for stroke with Landry - "you swim with and against kids that are actually your pace, which is lots of fun" - the first year team member does share at least some interest in the same stroke in which his teammate is being recognized.
"Personally, I feel that my favourite stroke will be freestyle, but the stroke I am working on the most right now is my breaststroke," said Hull. "When I swim the breaststroke, my coach will give me a lot of criticism, which I actually enjoy. It's good to get that, because you know that you're not perfect."
"I don't stay in the streamline, in breaststroke, long enough," Hull continued. "I'm just a little too short. We have drills to help, so I'm working on my stretch-2-3, which gets me in to my streamline and forces me to hold before kicking."
Of course, the bonus of not yet targeting the same "A" finals that are realistic goals for folks like Landry, and swimmers of his ilk, lies in the fact that Hull can remain much more congenial, in the heat of competition.
"I will talk to people in the heats behind me, in front of me, probably more than most swimmers," he said with a smile. "Once you get to the super competitive levels, like the older boys, I feel that everyone really focuses more on their own mentality."
The Valley East Waves were not the only local team returning home with a banner, the overall title at the Dave Kensit Memorial Meet claimed by the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, when all was said and done in Sault Ste Marie, this past weekend.