St. Viator boys swimming coach Mary Ruffin is an outspoken advocate for her sport, but she recognizes some of the challenges that go with the territory.
"It's a sport that can have some monotony, with all the time you have to spend in the water training," she said. "But I like this team -- you can tell they're having fun. You see them hanging together at the wall between sets, then somebody says something, and I see smiles. I can't always tell what's been said, but I know they're enjoying themselves. That's really important.
"It's hard work, so it's important to remember that you've also got to have fun with it."
If winning is fun, St. Viator had plenty of it Thursday. The Lions hosted a Notre Dame program that's just getting its feet wet and came away with decisive wins on both the varsity (78-15) and JV (68-12) levels.
More important to Ruffin is the continued progress the Lions are showing as a program.
In competitors such as Sean McDermott, Charlie Wood, Brennan McGuire and Keegan Finn, St. Viator has a group of swimmers with state meet aspirations.
Add in younger athletes such as Karol Nowak, who dropped some 8 seconds Thursday while winning the 500-yard freestyle, and Dante Cerone, who excelled against Notre Dame in the 200 free and on relays, and the overall competitive level of the team has also taken a step up.
"With Karol, it's a case of really learning to swim the event," Ruffin said. "He's showing that he's really starting to understand that part of it."
The lineup against Notre Dame proved to be a challenge, as illness limited the choices for St. Viator.
"I kept making out the lineup, then getting a phone call, then making a new lineup," Ruffin said. "If you're sick, we don't want you in here -- I'm like, 'Stay away.' "
Staying away from the pool isn't something Ruffin gets to do very often. Her practice session for the Arlington Alligators club team dovetailed with the end of the St. Viator's meet, giving her several straight hours of coaching immersion.
"It's funny -- I finish with one group, hustle off and change sweaters, and I'm back," she said with a smile. "Like I said, you've got to love it."