Quickly, the pool was brimming with swimmers; multiple lanes were inhabited by eight or more. The Patriots are one of the premier no-cut swimming programs in the area, and Ortmayer is responsible for more than 130 athletes on his team. They range from Division I commits to swimmers learning to be water-safe for the first time.
“Anybody can be on this team, and there’s a place for you on this team,” Ortmayer told his group at the start of the season.
Yorktown’s no-cut policy was implemented before Ortmayer took over the program six years ago: Arlington Public Schools requires each high school to host one no-cut team per athletic season. Ortmayer inherited a group of 100 swimmers upon his arrival. There are no tryouts, and the only requirement is each athlete attends at least one practice per week.
“After that first year, I was like, ‘Well, why stop at 100?’ ” Ortmayer said. “ ‘Let’s keep growing this thing.’ ”
Ortmayer has embraced his team’s all-inclusive rule. The Patriots are one of the fastest teams in the nation — the girls’ team has been ranked eighth nationally for the past three seasons, while the boys were ranked 16th last year — and that success has only fueled more expansion.
Ortmayer is a frequent attendee of Yorktown basketball and football games, where he sees his swimmers sitting with other students and inquires about those students’ interest in joining the swimming team. He tasks his swimmers with recruiting their classmates, some of whom compete during the fall and spring but don’t join a winter team.
That’s how junior Maria Garcerán Solano joined Yorktown. An exchange student from Spain staying in the United States for the year, Garcerán Solano was convinced to join by her friends on the cross-country team even though she doesn’t have much of a swimming background.
“I’m not a very sporty person,” she said. “But I really wanted to [play] sports in high school because [it’s] like the movie experience.”
Growing up in Madrid, Garcerán Solano was taught how to swim by her father and participated in weekly lessons from first to ninth grade. But when she showed up for her first day of practice at Yorktown, it was daunting.
Garcerán Solano waded through a sea of teammates waiting on the pool deck and jumped in the slowest lane. The echo of the indoor pool provided a deafening environment, and she didn’t understand the words written on the whiteboard by the coaches.
The backstroke was always espalda to Garcerán Solano. The butterfly was mariposa. For the first week of practice, she struggled to keep up with her teammates in the water as she adjusted to her typical practice regimen.
“A lot of people helped me,” Garcerán Solano said. “I asked [my coaches] four times what they said, and they would explain it to me the four times, so that was very nice.”
Weeks later, she was out of breath and dripping wet on the floor of the Yorktown pool deck at the team’s first meet. She had just completed her leg of the 200 freestyle relay and plopped down in exhaustion to watch the rest of her relay team complete her first race.
Stories such as Garcerán Solano’s, Ortmayer said, exemplify the coach’s push to become one of the largest swim teams in the area.
“I think that we’ve become a really good melting pot for so many different walks of life at Yorktown, at a fairly big public high school in the area,” Ortmayer said.
Matthew Pedicano is another newcomer for the Patriots. He was always a runner but developed patellar tendinitis last year and was unable to compete in cross-country. Pedicano’s coach advised him to join the swim team knowing he wouldn’t have to worry about being cut, and now the junior uses it as an outlet to compete while recovering.
“The mental side of coming back from the injury has been tough for me, but it’s been great swimming with a team,” Pedicano said. “Being around a team while you’re exercising keeps you motivated.”
Pedicano and Garcerán Solano aren’t typical point-scorers for Yorktown. That responsibility is given to tenured swimmers such as Nolan Dunkel and Rachel Conley, both of whom swim at the club level and are looking to further pursue their swimming careers.
Dunkel, a North Carolina State commit, set a Virginia Class 6 meet record in the 100 butterfly last year as the boys took third place. Conley helped the girls finish second behind Battlefield.
But if Dunkel and Conley are to hoist a state title trophy come February, so will Pedicano and Garcerán Solano. As the Patriots work through their dual meet schedule and move into championship season, it’s the size — and unity — of the team that has helped it emerge as a force.