URBANA – No relay races.
Protective masks on athletes who are not actively participating (this item is postponed to 2021).
And no state meets.
This is how the 2020 girls’ swimming and diving season went.
The procedure was even stranger for coach Hannah Newman’s Uni High team, who have only played three games as a precautionary measure due to the pandemic.
Sally Ma knew it wouldn’t be an optimal environment for her junior year.
The 2019 News-Gazette women’s athlete of the year in swimming and diving instead gave all their efforts to the Champaign Heat club team with the intention of returning to the Uni High program in 2021.
That’s what happened to Ma, who is now the Illineks’ senior captain.
“I feel like it means so much more,” Ma said. “I’m just super excited to see what’s going to happen.”
Ma will look to improve on her impressive second-year results – second state in the 50-yard freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle – starting with a duel on Sept. 2 at Olympia.
“I want to try and diversify myself a bit more,” said Ma, “but I think my main goal will always be to be sprintless. Maybe a little bit on the 100 fly.
Ma has kept busy enough with coach Will Barker’s Heat team. She took part in several spring and summer competitions.
“The workouts might be shorter than I’m used to, but I got the most out of every minute,” Ma said. “I see myself getting stronger and more efficient in the water.”
Ma said efficiency is a key word for her these days. Not only with his strokes, but also with his time in the pool.
As the pandemic made it difficult to access the swimming pool, Ma had to be content with “one hour or 50 minutes against one hour and 30 or two hours”.
“But I can make up for that time by doing things that will strengthen me in the weight room,” Ma said. “Just when I’m in the pool, I make sure I don’t waste a lot of time.”
The majority of Ma’s interactions with other Uni High students over the past school year have occurred through Zoom.
The return to the Illinek swimming practices relieves her of this reality.
“We have this bond,” Ma said, “and we spend so much time together.”
Ma has also spent some of her time over the past year finding a university home, both academically and athletically. She is committed to an institution, although she is not yet ready to announce it publicly.
That just leaves his aforementioned senior season to come to an end.
Ma is the clear face of the swimming and diving Illineks at this point. A program once paced by recent Olympians / University of California senior Ema Rajic and Cal freshman Reed Broaders will now go as Ma goes.
“I want to break 50 (seconds) in the 100 freestyle and break 23 in the 50 again,” said Ma. “As for the team, I just want us all to have fun.… I have the feeling like we can work really hard and have a lot of fun.