While girls swimming and diving has been deemed to be a low-risk sport, area teams will have to follow some serious restrictions because of COVID-19 safety guidelines set by the IHSA.


The season starts on Monday, Aug. 24, but all teams will have to follow social distancing that includes a maximum of 50 persons at a meet. That number will include coaches, participants, volunteers, officials, media and spectators.


Here are five things to watch regarding swimming and diving in the Journal Star area.


1. Swimmer making high school comeback for Metamora Co-op


The outlook for the Metamora Co-op took a turn for the better when Anna Peplowski, sister of two-time Journal Star Girls Swimmer of the Year Noelle Peplowski, decided to swim for the Redbirds her senior year. After qualifying for the state meet in four events as a freshman, Anna Peplowski swam exclusively for the strong Bloomington WAVES club team the past two seasons, focusing on building a resume for the college recruitment process. Her best times from last season would have made the A finals in four events at the state meet.


2. Trying to repeat as JS Girls Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year


Taylor Weaver, a senior at the Dunlap Co-op, qualified for the IHSA state meet in four events last season and was the easy choice for Journal Star Girls Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year honors. Two of those events, of course, were relays, which currently are not scheduled at state this season. She is still hoping for her first top-12 finishes at state to close out her high school career.


3. Focusing on individual events


Because of COVID-19 safety guidelines, there will be no relays held at dual or invitational meets (if there are any left on the schedule). So, swimmers will be able to participate in four different individual events. Teams could be participating in invitational meets virtually. But coaches are still waiting to see if that will be a possibility.


"PND has a plan to have a virtual championship meet on October 24," Notre Dame coach Derek Amerman said. "All the teams will swim their meets in their own pools and send in their results to the data base, and the data base will determine who is the champion.


"The problem you run into is that some pools are built better than others. So, some teams would have an advantage."


4. Which are some of the top teams in the area?


The Dunlap Co-op has won seven straight sectional titles, and have a new coach this season. Michelle Snelson, who took over the boys’ program last season, replaces long-time Eagles coach Jim Bucher, who retired after last season.


Snelson has 38 girls on the roster this season, including six divers. Three of her swimmers — senior Taylor Weaver, junior Kristin Shively and sophomore Grace Digiallonardo — have state experience from last season. But the return of Metamora Co-op senior Anna Peplowski could help the Redbirds make a strong showing in the conference invitational meet.


"Our goal for this year is to keep everyone healthy and have fun swimming our best that we can," Snelson said. "We will be focusing on quality over quantity. I am sure this will be a very memorable season."


The Washington Co-op coach Kathleen Tollakson expects her team to challenge for the title as well.


"We’ve got a great returning team, as well as many new swimmers," she said. "Based on the team compositions from last year, I expect us to be competing for second in conference with Pekin. Dunlap has remained a very strong and solid team, so unless they've changed dramatically due to COVID or other circumstances, I expect them to continue to lead."


Notre Dame coach Derek Amerman said that 27 girls showed up for the first practice, and the Irish will be tested early.


"We start on Tuesday against Normal West," he said. "We’re going big right out of the gate with the defending Big 12 champs."


5. Redbirds again looking for a home pool


Metamora Co-op coach Shane Morrison has one of his biggest groups ever this season with 28 swimmers. But the Redbirds might not have a practice pool after August. Morrison said that because of the COVID-19 situation, the Richwoods pool will no longer be available for his team. The Redbirds currently are practicing at the Roanoke Park District pool until the end of the month, and hope to use the pool in Flanagan to keep the season alive.


"I don’t know if I’m even going to have as swim season," Morrison said. "If Flanagan doesn’t let us use their pool, I’ve got no pool. We might have to cancel the season.


"I’ve got 28 swimmers out this year, and it could be one of my best years. But now I might not have an opportunity."