It was spring 2015, and then-freshman Amalie Fackenthal had just won Country Day’s second-ever individual section championship in the 50-meter freestyle. But her mind wasn’t on the victory.
She had injured her hand hitting the pool wall during the race and was only moments away from swimming the 100-meter free. If she didn’t want to choke, she needed to be mentally focused.
Fackenthal didn’t win that race but did go on to win seven more section championships over the next three years, helping the senior class win a total of 10 section championships.
And due to their success and competitiveness, athletic director Matt Vargo said he thinks that, athletically, this is one of the most impressive classes he’s had in his 16 years as athletic director.
“It’s a special class (since) they (play) many sports,” Vargo said. “You don’t replace a class like this right away.”
And while sophomore basketball starter Jackson Crawford thinks that basketball will be affected by the departure of the seniors, he remains optimistic.
“Everyone’s going to grow up,” Crawford said. “All of the freshmen are going to get better; all of the sophomores are going to be better.”
Two-year volleyball captain senior Katia Dahmani agrees with Crawford. She said that for next year’s volleyball team to be successful, certain players will need to step up into leadership roles to replace the departing seniors.
“It’s hard because (the team) is going to be without three big positions,” Dahmani said.
These three roles are setter, libero and middle blocker.
“(Junior) Lia Kaufman’s been working at being a setter (to replace Dahmaini’s twin sister Annya) a lot,” Dahmani said. “And I trust her capability, but it’s a really hard role to fill.”
In fact, three of the four seniors on the volleyball team have played varsity for four years.
Volleyball coach Jason Kreps said Dahmani consistently fired her teammates up.
“If people weren’t giving (the game) their all, she would be intense,” Kreps said. “She wasn’t mad. She just brought an intensity to the game, which kept everyone on their game.”
Sophomore Becca Waterson, who is one of Fackenthal’s teammates on the swim team, said that Fackenthal was such a good leader because she was always encouraging.
“She makes sure everyone knows what’s going on at all tiers of high school swim meets,” Waterson said.
However, Fackenthal said she’s confident that Waterson and junior Joe Zales will both become more vocal and encourage more people to join the team.
For the basketball team to step up, the players are going to have to work on their game a lot in the next six months, according to Crawford.
Senior basketball captain Reggie Fan agreed that the team will need to step up but is still optimistic.
“There’ll almost definitely be a struggle and adjustment period,” Fan said. “But it will get better throughout the year, and they’ll be fine.”
And senior Nico Burns, who has played on the tennis team for four years and won the singles section championship his junior year, said he is even less worried about his team’s future.
“It’ll be fine since (junior Leo Eisner) did really well this year,” he said. “They still have some good dedicated players like (junior Eisner) and (junior) Chardonnay (Needler).”
Freshman Ming Zhu, one of Burns’s teammates on the tennis team, said he thinks that the seniors played a major role.
“(Burns is) definitely a leader for the team,” Ming said. “I like his attitude when he plays and talks to (his freshman teammates).
“Even though we’re freshmen, he’s usually really supportive of us.”
Burns also said he developed a strong bond with teammates.
“I’ll miss my teammates,” Burns said. “It was fun that I got to bond with them a lot. Some of the matches are an hour to an hour and a half away in the mountains, so we’d sit together in the van and talk and do impressions of faculty members.”
Ironically, Burns said one of his favorite tennis moments was a loss in his sophomore year.
Burns made the tournament finals as the number-two seed in 2016 and had to play against Johann Dias, ’16. Even though Burns lost, he said he really enjoyed playing someone so talented (Dias played for a year on the California Lutheran University tennis team after he graduated.)
The seniors’ athletic talent and dedication is why Vargo has enjoyed coaching the soccer team over the last four years.
One of his favorite coaching moments was the 2016 soccer section championships against Sacramento Waldorf, when senior Theo Kaufman scored the team’s first goal, contributing to a 3-0 victory.
The competitive aspect of post-season sports was also a highlight for Dahmani.
Dahmani said that, at first, the competitiveness of volleyball frustrated her but that Kreps and co-coach Sarah Song helped both her skill and mindset.
“Back in freshman year,” Dahmani said, “I was really harsh on myself and couldn’t shake off mistakes. But since I’m so competitive, (Song) and (Kreps) taught me to use my competitiveness to improve the whole team and not bring myself down.”
And according to Dahmani, this coaching helped her develop closer connections to some team members, leading to more success – such as winning sections championships three years in a row.
“When we’re on, we’re on,” Dahmani said. “It was never an individual thing for me. It was always about my teammates.”
Kreps agreed that the team played at a very high level with the senior captains. In fact, Country Day didn’t have one league championship until this senior class joined the team.
Fackenthal said that she will especially miss the support that she received from her peers.
“Sometimes at bigger (high) schools people don’t care as much about swimming,” Fackenthal said. “Even if the team is good, there are much bigger school sports like football.”
And Vargo said that while he doesn’t want the class to leave, he is excited for next year.
“We’re not (trying) to replicate the past,” Vargo said. “You get a new group and new kids get new opportunities. Younger athletes become leaders and grow, and that’s what’s kind of cool about high school athletics.”
“The talent definitely flows. Maybe not next year, but who knows (how successful) we will be in the future.
“We’ve got a lot of good young athletes in the middle and lower schools.”
Originally published in the June 6 edition of the Octagon.
—By Jackson Margolis