Never let it be said that Robbinsville provides run-of-the-mill captains for high school athletic squads.
Take the Notre Dame High girls’ swim team, for example. Two of the Irish’s three senior captains are from Robbinsville and are about so much more than just the pool. Lauren Nance is an accomplished equestrian, while Kaylee McEvoy spent last summer touring Spain just to make sure she honed what she learned in class.
Irish coach Henry DeSandre, however, is more enamored by what they have in common—the ability to contribute to his team.
“Lauren has an energy that just blows me away,” DeSandre said. “She’s a strong swimmer. She’s a strong middle stance freestyler and a strong backstroker. She’s a good meet leader, a good team leader with a lot of positive re-enforcement. Kaylee is a distance girl who has great work ethic and she really identifies with her teammates. Both girls are tremendous advocates of Notre Dame swimming.”
Despite being from the same town, the girls did know each other until their freshman year of high school when they met through riding the bus and going out for the swim team.
Nance took her first lessons at The Atlantic Club in Manasquan before moving to South Carolina and competing for SwimMAC in Charlotte, North Carolina. Since returning to New Jersey, she has swam predominantly with Hamilton Aquatics Club but spent last year with Peddie.
“I have been doing swim as long as I can remember,” Nance said. “My parents signed me up for swim lessons as soon as I was old enough and I have been doing it ever since. I’ve spent so much of my time on this sport and it is a huge part of my life.”
It’s likewise with McEvoy.
“I started swimming in preschool and I cannot remember a time I my life when a significant amount of my time was not in the pool,” she said. “I initially got involved because my mom made me go to lessons, not realizing the commitment she signed up for. She simply wanted me to learn how to swim so I could be safe but I ended up loving it. Eventually, the coach at the pool where I was taking lessons asked me to try out for the team. After making the team at four years old, I continued swimming until today.”
‘Throughout the past four years Lauren and I have had each other’s backs throughout every season.’
McEvoy swam for Peddie from Kindergarten to 3rd grade before switching to the New Jersey Stingrays, where she continues to compete.
Unlike Nance, who has always loved the 50 and 100 freestyles and 100 backstroke, which she has done all her life, McEvoy had to be “coerced” to do distance.
“When I was younger I would switch events every few months,” she said. “I swam breaststroke at one point and even fly. At our Trenton meet my freshman year, Coach DeSandre forced me to swim the 500 free for the first time. I honestly thought that he was crazy and that there was no way I would make it through the swim, but I swam it anyway and loved it.”
DeSandre loved how she did it, as he put her there again in their next meet against Robbinsville.
“I ended up placing in the event and he informed me that I would be swimming it again at MCTs (Mercer County Championships),” McEvoy said. “At the beginning of my freshman year, I never would have expected to have to swim that far or enjoy doing it, but the instant I swam it, I knew I had finally found my event and I have not stopped swimming it since.”
The two have had varying degrees of success. McEvoy has fared well in dual meets but has yet to find success in states and counties. Nance has had top-six finishes in the counties for three straight years, following in the footsteps of her brother Austin, a 2017 ND grad.
“My brother has definitely influenced me,” Nance said. “We swam on the same club teams growing up and pushed each other to do our best. I went to his swim meets at Notre Dame and knew I wanted to be part of the team too. I saw how great the coaching staff was and saw the great chemistry throughout the team. He always loved Notre Dame swim and I’m glad that he passed the love onto me.”
It is a love that has consistently burned passionately for Nance, although that has not been the case for McEvoy. DeSandre noted that she “had to fall in love again with a sport that is sometimes so easy to fall out of love with.”
The issue stemmed from a back injury that surfaced last season, leaving McEvoy to wonder about her future.
“On top of that, my intense amounts of school work, as well as trying to balance both Notre Dame swimming and club swimming, became difficult,” she said. “The stress from all of that when dealing with my back injury forced me to ask if swimming was worth the risk when I was already hurt. After taking some time off over the summer, I missed swimming and knew I had to go back. Since then I have continued to struggle with my injury but I can definitely say that the risk is worth it since I get to do something.”
There was a good reason why she took the summer off. McEvoy plans on studying Spanish in college and already completed all the Spanish classes Notre Dame offered. Not wishing to forget what she learned before getting to college, she visited the ultimate classroom.
“I went to Spain on a language immersion program, and I was there simply to gain confidence with the Spanish language,” said McEvoy, who is now taking Italian III at Notre Dame. “I traveled across the country to different locations from cities and small towns to mountains and beaches. I truly experienced the various regions and ways of life throughout Spain, and most importantly I learned more about the culture through both lessons and experience.
“However, the only form of ‘culture shock’ I experienced was not being able to swim every day. After five weeks, I still did not want to go home but I had definitely accomplished my goal of improving my Spanish.”
And while McEvoy was traipsing about Spain, Nance stayed home and enjoyed one of her true passions on dry land.
“I love horseback riding so much,” she said. “I first started in second grade during a summer camp and from then on haven’t stopped. I have competed in shows, but now I do it for my own enjoyment. I try my best to ride at least once or more a week, but sometimes it becomes challenging with the demanding schedule of swim. I would definitely love to continue riding the rest of my life. It is something that brings me so much peace and happiness.”
Swimming also brings happiness, if not much peace, but Nance hopes to enjoy the ruckus for four more years. She is keeping her college options open and if the right fit comes along, she will try to extend her career. McEvoy has applied to schools that all have Division I programs, so she figures her future is either on a club team or swimming independently.
Until then, the two are focused on one more high school campaign together. Nance looks to swim a low 24 in the 50 free and “do my best during championships and in all my meets,” while McEvoy’s goals are to improve her times in the 500 and 200 and “cheer the rest of my teammates on through their personal successes.”
The duo will certainly cheer on each other, as they have become great compadres since meeting as freshmen.
“I know that she will always be there for me,” Nance said. “I think that we definitely push each other in a positive way. I have enjoyed having her as a great teammate throughout high school.”
McEvoy echoes those sentiments.
“Throughout the past four years Lauren and I have had each other’s backs throughout every season,” she said. “Lauren pushes everyone on the team to do the best that they can and is a constant source of positivity and encouragement for all of us. She is not only my teammate but she has become a close friend of mine through the years. I can honestly be as weird as possible around her and she won’t judge me for any of it, she always understands. We can actually talk for hours about everything both in and out of the pool. I could not be luckier to have a teammate like Lauren.”
DeSandre feels the same way about having both on his team.