Sports: With Head Coach Ailing; Captains and Asst. Coach Lead Girls’ Swimming

Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Swimming Head Coach Ev Crosscup and his assistant, Gretchen Turner. 

The water in Belmont High School’s Higgenbottom Pool was churning from six lanes of swimmers powering over the 25-meter course as teammates urge the backstrokers on as they prepare to reach for the wall. 

While the meet between Belmont and Burlington high schools was determined several races before – the Marauders piled up the points early and often – Belmont High’s venerable head coach Ev Crosscup began gathering up his belongs and started slowly for the exit. 

But Crosscup’s action was not due to the score.

“I’ve run out of gas,” Crosscup said as he pulled his alway present baseball cap over his eyes, apologizing that he’s unable to stay longer to speak about his team. Sitting on a bench on the pool’s edge, Crosscup’s eyes mostly stares downward even as his team wins another meet.

In a season the Marauders is one of the favorites to win a first state championship – Belmont has been runners-up in the past two Div. 2 title meets – and defend its Middlesex League title, the team’s long-time coach is struggling with a lingering illness in his lungs that hospitalized him for six days in September.

Today, the two-time Boston Globe All-Scholastic Swimming Coach of the Year undergoes continuing painful treatments stripping him of his strength and ability to sit in the humid pool enclosure.

“I was stubborn, a very male reaction to being sick. I thought I could ignore it, and it would go away,” said Crosscup, who has known many of the Marauders since they first tried out as kindergarteners on the Belmont Aquatics Team he coached.

With Crosscup’s daily coaching limited, leading the team in practice and motivating it towards a goal of a state title has been taken up by the Marauders’ four senior co-captains and it’s second-year assistant coach, Gretchen Turner.

For Sarah Stewart, a senior co-captain and relay specialist, the absence of Crosscup – a tall, lanky New Englander who doesn’t need to raise his voice to be heard and who’s exceedingly polite and proper – is felt by the entire team.

“[Crosscup] has been missing every day but we hear from him so even though he’s not physically here, we know he’s with us,” said Stewart.

For Stewart and her fellow captains, “there are situations that we know, ‘no, you can’t [reduce the time for each lap of the pool], you have to push more, Ev would want you to do that’.” 

And it is the seniors and juniors, who have spent time with Crosscup, who have taken to conveying that respect for hard work to a large number of freshmen and sophomores swimming beside them, she said. 

“There’s an unspoken commitment that we have to each other, that motivates us,” she said.

So far, the season has seen Belmont put up solid results, staying with Division 1 powers Chelmsford and Andover while dominating the league schedule. And much the credit for putting all the pieces in the correct order has fallen onto Crosscup’s assistant, Gretchen Turner. 

“This year, [Turner] definitely stepped up,” said Stewart.

Turner grew up in a swimming family in Littleton and swam for the Acton-Boxborough Town Swim Team under legionary coach Jeff Johnson (who also coaches the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School Girls’ team) since she was four. 

Recruited to play soccer at Niagara University, she would see the swimmers head off for 5:30 a.m. practice “and I really missed that.” Deciding she didn’t like high-level soccer but loved the water, Turner was able to swim competitive breaststroke for her four years with the Purple Eagles graduating in 2003. 

After college, Turner had helped Johnson with the club program and worked with her family’s swimming lessons business when she learned from her sister, Belmont High School Assistant Principal Sherri Turner, that a position opened with Crosscut and immediately got her an interview. 

“Ev and I hit it off immediately,” said Turner. 

While Turner has all but taken the reins of the program due to Crosscup’s illness, it’s not as if she has been thrown into the deep in the pool, struggling to meet the challenge of running the team. 

Crosscup did such a great job last year preparing me for this, not knowing this was going to happen,” said Turner, allowing her to set the practices, arranging the lineups for the contests, and once when he was away last year, to run an entire meet by herself. 

“There are still things that I’m learning that I’ve missed, but I’m so thankful he stepped aside and pushed me last year,” Turner said. 

Turner admits there is added pressure on her with the program’s successes over the past three years 

“I don’t want to let them down with the expectations for the season what the girls want to get out of it. Every minute of every day, I’m thinking of them and where they want to go,” she said.

And that journey, all hope, will end next month with the girls celebrating in Harvard’s Blodgett Pool with a state championship trophy. 

Stewart said since the first day of trials, “our goal is to win states. We choose that goal last April at the captain’s meeting. We’ve put that in the heads of the new kids who made the team.”

And now they want to dedicate their goal to Ev.

“We want to prove to [Crosscup] that our aim will be achieved and met,” said Stewart.

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