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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
Over the past year a new club, the Southern Tier Aquatics (STAQ) started up.

The club was formed on June 1 and they recently were USA Swimming approved. The Club just started their fall season on Sept. 11 of last year.

 “The club was started because we were getting continued interest from varsity kids to get some training in during the varsity offseason and we have been working very hard to get it up and going,” coach Anthony Furstoss said.

“That’s definitely my favorite part about this new club,” state-champion swimmer Angie McKane said. “I have always wanted to have the same coach and training methods year-round and it’s really been an opportunity. So, I’m very glad it was able to come together coming into my senior year and last  year of high school swimming.

“I know for my varsity swim team not everyone swims year-round, but I know a majority of the people who do, they definitely were grateful when they heard about this new club with a consistent training method year-round.”

McKane is a five-time state champion for the Hawks. She feels like working with coaches like Furstoss all year will only help make her better.

Coach Furstoss has always been there for me since eighth grade,” she  said. “I am super glad I am able to spend twice the amount of time I  usually would.”

The club has grown quickly and the coaching staff has loved seeing all the kids grow as swimmers. Along with Furstoss the other coaches are Christopher Nale, Katherine McKane and John Nord.
“It’s been a great time,” coach Nale said. “We just started this past summer and I have actually been really surprised at how fast the club has grown. I think we are up to 53-56 kids now, probably 25 in novice. A lot of new kids who are ready to learn to swim and bring a competitive nature to heart.

“It’s a variety of ages in this novice group, I think our youngest is six and I think our oldest is 13, but they all bring a joy of the water, which is great, and a willingness to learn. As long as they bring those to the practice we are going to be successful.”

The progress by the kids is fun to watch.

“It’s good, it’s good to see the progress the kids are making in such a short time,” Nord said. “It’s good to see them having fun and enjoying them. On our swim test, we have a swim test to help place the kids in the appropriate group we actually ran out of the forms we had to have the parents sign. We printed out our optimistic number we thought and we ran out so that surprised us.”
That’s a big part of the reason for the club, giving an opportunity for swimmers to get a chance to work with similar training all year.

“That’s a really big pull toward this club starting,” Furstoss said.  “Some of the kids don’t swim in the offseason, some do. We are hoping to get more interest in the kids looking to swim year-round. But, having that knowledge of where they are at, and what they need to work on is very important.
“Varsity is a very short season in the grand scheme of things. For very dedicated swimmers it’s 25-30% of their year, so there is a whole  other two seasons of club they aren’t with us. So, we are trying to close the gap on that, be a little more hands on with their progression and what they need to work on.”

Being able to take those swimmers and work with them during the school  year, and then also in the club season, is something that will just make the swimmers better.

 “I think that’s a real crucial component of it when the kids believe in their training, they believe in their coaches and they believe in themselves,” Furstoss said. “Then it’s just putting all those pieces  together and making sure we are focused on the most important things  for that swimmer to make sure we can help get over the hurdle and get  to the next level. Having that consistency with us and training methodologies is critical.

“We are always going to have the kids who kind of show up having never done swimming and want to try it out. I think having this is actually going to help us support them too. We will have more time and infrastructure set up to be able to help them accommodate kids of all skill levels.”

Having those upper level kids on the team only helps the younger swimmers and the coaches.
“That’s what we keep telling a lot of the kids who are further on, the biggest thing they can do to help themselves keep growing in the sport is just stay with it so having the older kids make the big change, and they say oh, wow I keep working at it and I’m getting better much quicker and now the younger kids catch on to. If we can start off at a younger age and keep them more consistent they will keep some of the technical things we teach them and it will snowball from there.

“It’s invaluable and this is why for example there are two of our seniors right now helping with the younger kids. A big thing I grew up with and I always loved having the older kids learn themselves by helping to teach younger kids, so it gives them a different perspective of what they are learning by teaching it and then having these really high level kids on the team. These younger kids look up to them and they say wow, I’m in the same pool as Angie McKane for example and they see all her records and banners everywhere. It’s really helpful to have that role model and see the progression and say it started off at this point. Put in a lot of hard work and stay consistent and now Angie is going off to nationals.”

Having the older kids and younger kids on the same team can only benefit all the swimmers.
“I think it’s pivotal that they get these opportunities,” Nale said. “It’s just like going to watch college sports or going to watch a professional sport and seeing and idolizing people who have taken the sport to the next level and just seeing how spectacular they are. I think that’s extremely important we have gotten some great feedback about having combined groups or combined practices. So these kids can actually see what does that next level look like and we can give them the path to achieve it.

“We have a great mix of up and coming swimmers that are moving into high school and moving into varsity, but if you think about our team we have about 25 novice kids and about 27 non-novice kids, they are intermediate and senior level. WE have this variety of level of swimmers and we are going to keep building them up. I can foresee a couple years from now we are going to have this huge senior level team that is a powerhouse.”

The coaching staff includes a wide diversity of coaches, including Katherine McKane, who is Angie’s older sister, and a former Corning standout. Nord was a two-time state runner-up and All-American in high school and a 14-time national D1 qualifier at Buffalo.

“I love working with younger kids, I love working with all these age groups,” Katherine McKane said. “Honestly, very impressed just this season the short amount of time they have worked on, we have seen major improvements in technique and times.

“I think it’s important to have a variety of different coaches, because they can give different perspectives and approaches to swimming. Whether that’s a collegiate level where some of us seniors need that to help develop their endurance base. Then you also have the ideas from younger swim lesson programs, I’ve seen come in here. It’s good to have that diversity.”

Having just finished her collegiate career recently, Katherine McKane knows her experiences can help the swimmers.

“I like to think it’s a good experience that I have been able to just recently finish up my swimming career and reflect back on it, see what worked for me, see what didn’t work for me and approach coaching in that lens. It was a good experience for me and I hope what I have is a good experience for these kids as well.”

The mix of coaches allows all of them to learn from each other and provide different backgrounds for the swimmers to learn from.

“I think everyone brings their different strengths and all we have to do as coaches is work together as coaches to present our strengths and work together to improve the kids and their swimming,” Nale said. “I am very glad we have such a versatility of backgrounds and each has their own strengths they can bring.

“I think it’s always good to learn from others, whether it’s outside resources or within our team.”
“Very helpful having a strong background in the sport is helpful for all the technical things,” Nord said. “And, also we don’t have a lot of coaches right now, but for the size group we have it’s useful to be flexible for who is coaching what. For example, on any given day I could be coaching all ages we have interchange with say Chris Nale coaching every age. If I have to be out of town, or coach Furstoss has to be out of town for something we can say someone has to cover and we don’t have to worry. “

And, the older kids are able to help the coaches out.

“We have done practices like that, we have geared practices like this one for example, where we mix the groups together and do the active learning through teaching and have the older kids help out. We only have so many eyes on deck and then you have kids like Angie, that really keep the others focused in workouts. Marvin (Reimsnyder) is the same way, JP is the same way, they are varsity right now. During the preseason they were instrumental in helping keeping the focus going during practices if coach Furstoss or I had to be working with the younger kids they could get the younger kids going.”

The team got its name because it’s open to all area schools.

“We named it Southern Tier Aquatics because while I’m obviously a Corning varsity coach, we have an interest in growing swimming across all the age groups and we wanted to send the message it’s not just Corning, we are open to all communities,” Furstoss said.

Coming after Covid, when many clubs closed up throughout the country, it’s special for the club to be able to offer opportunities for more kids.

“I think it’s great,” Nale said. “It’s interesting, one of the graphs I looked at before, it showed what Covid did to sports. It drove a lot of the numbers up in the outside sports, like soccer for example, and it had a tremendous impact on the reduction of kids going into indoor sports like swimming. So hopefully now that we are past those times it’s a chance to rebuild and strengthen indoor sports like swimming that has long term benefits.

“I wasn’t in the Corning area during Covid, but I have family in New York State, so I heard a lot about what was going on, and the tough times. I’m very glad everything is open, we are up and running, we are offering a great opportunity for a competitive swim team. So far there are a lot of kids that are interested. Parents seem happy, kids seem happy, so I think we are doing the right thing.”

“I came from a background, I had very small teams and they don’t exist anymore, really unforunately, and it’s nice to see the momentum this team is gaining and see the kids enjoying it more than anything else. It feels terrific to be able to give them opportunities and for them to enjoy it more than anything else. If they are happy they are going to do far better than if they are not enjoying it, so giving them opportunities they are enjoying is way better than if they are being shoehorned into one thing.”

The club is already off to a good start and the coaches are seeing the kids times improve each time out. For Furstoss he’s been able to see the kids who are part of the club get faster and faster.

“It’s going pretty well, we have been having a lot of meets in Rochester and Buffalo,” Furstoss said. “We are trying to get more local opportunities. A couple of our girls had some cut times, some PR’s. Our boys hit the ground running. There was an obvious separation from the kids that have been swimming and guys who haven’t. Also, the technical components have been more consistent so we are able to run with that instead of having to build it all from the beginning.”

And, right now the team has a strong mix of swimmers in the senior age group (varsity aged swimmers) and the younger age group.

One of the swimmers from another school is Horseheads standout Shoonfon Li, who is enjoying the chance to work with the club.

“It’s definitely something different,” Li said. “It’s nice. I’m definitely getting a few more dry land work outs. I’m getting more
advice, more technique work basically. I’m already close to committing to college. I’m just trying to get as much technique down to get as  good as I can.”

 Li enjoys being in the club with some of the elite swimmers in the area and with some experienced coaches.

“Angie, she’s a national qualifier, definitely nice to have someone like that to train with here,” Li said. “I have talked to many coaches around here. It’s been a great experiences, just talking. They have been really nice, helping me out with the technique, it’s definitely nice.”

If the start of the school season is any indication the work is paying off For Li as he has broken pool records on almost a daily basis this winter, and has already qualified for states in nearly every event he’s swam.

For the club the hope is to get the consistency starting with swimmers from when they are young all the way through varsity.

“Get that consistency and start that process a little younger, and they hopefully know what to expect when they get to this level,” Furstoss said. “They know us, we can try and keep them engaged in the sport.”

When the younger kids see how hard the older kids work that just motivates them.

“As the kids progress, I think it’s very important to have those older kids working hard and showing a good work ethic so they can see these are things they can accomplish to,” Katherine McKane said. “They are wonderful kids to work with, like Shoonfon and Angie are great working with the younger kids and helping them and answering their questions and I think that dynamic for the younger kids means the world for them.

“I think it’s really important they see that because it gives them an example to follow so theya re asking questions, to they are anxious to learn. I think Angie sets a great example of that and Shoonfon, he sets a great example, he’s always working hard and I think the younger kids see that and they do want to ask. More questions and they want to learn.”

While the younger kids will be using this club to help make them better swimmers, the older swimmers like McKane and Li are trying to prepare for what’s next in the sport.

“I committed to the military academy at West Point,” McKane said. For the Hawks standout there is still plenty of work to get better, but now she doesn’t have to worry about college visits and making a college choice.

“I think going into last year there was the matter of wondering where  I’ll end up,” McKane said. “Obviously it takes some stress off my shoulders, because there was the matter of college calls and campus visits. There is definitely a little stress, but I’m still very focused on my times and how I’m improving rather than worrying about getting into college,” McKane said.

It’s special for McKane that already this year her future college coach at West Point came to a STAQ practice.

“It definitely does feel pretty special, when I was practicing it looked like my West Point coach and Furstoss were getting along a little bit well,” McKane said. “They were definitely critiquing my stroke the whole practice, as shown by their hand motions. It’s very special and I’m super excited to see what comes up.”

In the club season, and high school season, McKane has been trying
more and more events, which will only help her at the college level.

“Going into college I’m really hoping I’m valuable and I’m able to help out the team wherever possible,” McKane said. “Obviously I still hope I can focus on the 100 fly or whichever event I’m fastest at, but definitely I think the versatility will help with the team.”

For Katherine McKane it’s different coaching her sister, and brother, but it’s been fun.

“It’s always rocky coaching your siblings at first, both my litter brother and little sister are on this team, but as time progresses they respect me more as a coach rather than a sister, and I love watching them grow and I love supporting them. It’s a unique experience. I savor these moments. If I’m not coaching I love going to watch her (Angie’s) swim meets and see how she’s progressing. Those are moments I feel really connected to her because I used to do it and I feel like a part of me is with them all the time.”

After just finishing her swimming career coaching is something new for Katherine, and something she enjoys and hops to continue to do in the future.

“I hope to continue this for many years to come,” Katherine McKane said. “I don’t think I can leave swimming behind, whether that’s coaching or swimming myself. It’s so different. Instead of relying on someone for emotional support and physical support in terms of workouts, now I have these kids who rely on me emotionally and also for advice on how to improve so it’s a different dynamic, but I”m happy I have this.

“I love it. My favorite thing about coaching is going to swim meets and cheering them on. Feeling the high highs with them, but also understanding when they are upset and being there to comfort them and tell them you can’t always win a race every single time, you can’t always swim a best time. I get to live vicariously through them. Sometimes, if there is something I know they are trying to reach a goal, whether it’s a silver time, gold time, a speedo cut time, I want that for them as much as they want it for themselves.”

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