COLUMBIA — More than 20 swimmers, dressed in a variety of colored swimsuits and swimming caps, are in the pool at Hickman High School. There is no obvious distinction between the Kewpies swimmers and those from Rock Bridge. The swimmers chat, fool around and cheer one another on during their laps.
Although the Hickman and Rock Bridge teams practice together, they compete against each other at meets. Last season, Rock Bridge won its first Missouri State High School Activities Association girls swimming and diving championship, which could have stirred some animosity between the teams.
“I don’t really feel any because last year Rock Bridge won state, and although I didn’t swim for Rock Bridge, we all still felt like just one team,” Kewpies senior Lark LaBrunerie said. “If they beat us or we beat them, there is really no difference. You still feel happy for the other team."
LaBrunerie said there is friendly competition between the Kewpies and Bruins during meets, but overall, they are a tight-knit group.
“We’re basically one team," she said. "We call ourselves ‘Team CoMo’ because we’re all so close.”
LaBrunerie also said that without the joint practices, she may have never met her best friend, Annie Rumpf, a Rock Bridge senior. The two got to know each other as sophomores.
“I think it’s really great that I can say that one of my best friends is from Hickman,” Rumpf said. “I know that the Hickman-Rock Bridge rivalry is sometimes really blown out of proportion, and it’s really showed me that there are great people at Hickman and that the rivalry doesn’t apply when it comes to swimming.”
Rumpf admits that because of traffic it can be an inconvenience at times to travel from Rock Bridge to Hickman every day after school for practice.
“Last year, we had morning practices, and that was very difficult because you have to deal with the morning traffic,” Rumpf said. “I got a few tardies because of morning practice.”
But Rumpf said that, if she had the choice, she would not want to practice at her school and separate the Kewpies and Bruins.
“I have wondered, what if we had our own pool,” she said. “But that would mean that I won’t get to practice with my Hickman friends, and I don’t think that would be worth it.
“Lark and I do hang out all the time whether it’s swim season or not, but we love swim season because we get to see each other every day for three hours and that’s really nice.”
Peter Willett, who is in his first season as the head coach for both teams, also has to travel to practice at Hickman because he is a math teacher at Rock Bridge during the day.
“Although obviously the girls want their school to do better, they are supportive of the other members of ‘Team CoMo’ as we call it,” Willett said.
Hickman and Rock Bridge are set to open their seasons Saturday at the Marquette Relays in Chesterfield. Willett said he just wants his swimmers to race well and have fun.