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IHS girls swim team continues successful first season with new coach

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IHS swim coach Mike Blakely-Armitage tells a swimmer her next practice drill. (Credit: Erica Dischino/Ithaca Week)
By Erica Dischino and Emily Fedor 

Ithaca High School’s girls swimming team finished off their dual meet season undefeated with new head coach Mike Blakely-Armitage. He has coached the boys swimming team at IHS for the past seven seasons, and this season marks his first with the girls team.

Roy Staley, a decorated athlete and coach who led the IHS girls swimming team for nearly 40 years, retired from his position last season. During his time, he produced 23 consecutive sectional titles as well as numerous all-state and all-American athletes.

Blakely-Armitage began working at Ithaca High School with the help of Staley, who he looks up to as a mentor in the swimming community. They formed a relationship through coaching and Blakely-Armitage said he can always seek guidance from Staley.

“I don’t feel anxiety about filling his shoes but it’s an honor and something that I respect a lot, he said. “It’s a privilege.”

ICSD Interim Athletic and Wellness Officer Jeffrey Manwaring said that hiring Blakely-Armitage for the girls swimming team coach was a natural transition due to his past experience at IHS.

“His work ethic is outstanding and that translates to the girls,” Manwaring said. “Because of his leadership he provides, it’s been great.”

Blakely-Armitage had been involved with the Ithaca swimming community before his coaching career began at IHS. He was a part of the Ithaca College swim team and was an assistant men’s and women’s coach for the college’s team after graduating in 2000.

The new IHS girls swimming coach said working at the collegiate level is much different than working at the high school level.

“You definitely have to do a lot more character building with kids in high school. They haven’t learned all the time management skills and they don’t really know about the competition yet,” Blakely-Armitage said. “They don’t have that competitive background.”

Coaching girls in addition to boys has also allowed Blakely-Armitage to broaden his coaching style. In order to effectively motivate and lead the girls team, he found that he had to change his approach in terms of how he communicates with them.

“Boys are a little bit more monotone with their emotions,” he said. “Girls are way more emotive in general, and that has required me to be that way when I’m expressing myself.”

Blakely-Armitage said that by doing this, he hopes to improve the social dynamic of the team to help the swimmers perform their best not only individually, but as a collective unit.

Micaela Moravek, a junior captain of the girls swimming team, started her IHS swimming career her freshman year. She said this year has been really positive, both in and out of the pool under Mike’s leadership.

“Mike is definitely very energized throughout practice. He’s always cheering us on,” she said.

Before the season started, Blakely-Armitage conducted a meeting for the swimmers and their parents to introduce himself and become familiar with the team. He also held one-on-one’s with rising seniors to foster a relationship with his new team and ensure for a smooth transition between coaches.

Blakely-Armitage has kept the winning momentum as strong as it was under Staley, but he has brought new elements to the team throughout the season. The team now has one part-time and two full-time assistant coaches, an element that Moravek says she and the girls find greatly beneficial.

“With Roy, it was just him last year,” said Moravek. “Now we have tons of people you can ask to watch you and see what is good and bad.”

Blakely-Armitage has also implemented various goal-setting and team bonding exercises to keep the team morale high and help the girls believe in themselves. At the start of the season, he gave each girl a shark tooth to symbolize the legacy they are a part of.

“I use an analogy of the team being a shark, and every person on the team being a tooth in the shark’s mouth,” he said. “If you know how sharks are, they lose their teeth…and another row of teeth are constantly coming in. So the underclassmen are like those new rows of teeth that are coming through.”

Despite having many of their strongest teammates graduate last year, Moravek and her teammates are excited for their upcoming meets because they believe that they can come out on top.

“We’re kind of that new era because we have so many new people that are taking the place of the old swimmers.”

The IHS girls swimming team are currently preparing to compete at sectionals and hope to head to states later this month.

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