FORT WASHINGTON — To say that Germantown Academy’s girl’s swimming and diving team is carried by their underclassmen would be an understatement. During their Jan. 24 meet against Lawrenceville School, only two seniors were place winners. However, it is not due to lack of talent, more so it is due to a lack of seniors.
The GA roster boasts only three upperclassmen — Caroline Osman ’18, Riley Gobora ’18 and Elizabeth Wescott ’18. Despite the lack of experience, the Patriots have not faltered much this year, which is not a surprise to Head Coach Jeff Thompson.
“When I watch them train everyday — and I spend five hours with them a day — I’m not surprised,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to see that their efforts are paying off. We’re young and we knew that coming in, but we’re kinda wearing that like a badge. I’m excited for the direction we’re going.”
One of the main reasons to be excited is the performance of Emma Atkinson ’20. Earlier in the week when the Patriots hosted William Penn Charter, Atkinson competed in four events and won each one. The very next day against Lawrenceville, the sophomore again competed in four events — 200 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 100-yard backstroke and 400 freestyle relay — and again earned the first-place spot in all four.
Top-place performances are nothing new to Atkinson, who has won the majority of her events this year. In addition to taking first, she’s also setting records. Earlier this year, she set the Baldwin School pool record in the 500 freestyle and the 100 backstroke.
“It’s fun to post a good time,” Atkinson said. “I’m part of this legacy now. The coaching staff is great and I’m adding onto what’s already built. I think that’s more important; my name being up there with the new coaching staff. This is what we want to do. Breaking records is fun.”
Not only is Atkinson winning her events, she is doing so by a wide margin. When she swam the 200 freestyle against the Big Red, Atkinson finished 11 seconds faster than the next swimmer. She gives credit to Thompson and the other coaches for helping her put together a fantastic season.
“The coaching staff has been helping me from my first swim last year to my last swim today,” Atkinson said. “We put a lot of time and effort into perfecting my strokes and finishes. They’ve just been really good with letting me try some new things and also putting me in different events I don’t usually get to swim.”
Some of those new things involve experiences outside of the pool as well. In October of 2017, Atkinson was chosen as one of just 48 girls from across the United States to participate in USA Swimming’s National Select Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That selection came after Atkinson represented the Germantown Academy Aquatic Club at the 2017 World Championship Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana during the summer.
While she said she “loves traveling,” the sophomore also knows how important those trips are. She’s not intimidated seeing names like Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin on the walls where she works out, she’s more excited that she gets to compete at that level. Atkinson said that she took more away from the events that she did not do well in than the ones where she dropped time.
“It’s a learning experience,” Atkinson said. “It’s a group of people my age with the same dedication. Just going to these bigger meets where there are names from every Olympian on the wall, it’s a learning experience.”
Instead of keeping those lessons to herself, the sophomore has shared what she has learned with not only her teammates, but also her coaches. According to Atkinson, the coaches have then implemented some of those lessons into the normal practices. Thompson says that it is that trait, as well as her passion for the sport, that sets Atkinson apart from other swimmers.
“Emma is a special student-athlete,” Thompson said. “She’s really good at coming back and sharing what she’s learned and her enthusiasm is contagious. She’s like a 10 and under that just won their first ribbon, but she’s like that all the time. Those things rub off and she’s great in the pool for our team. Those opportunities to go out just add oxygen to that fire inside of her. She’s hard not to like.”