Summer and the Hampton Pool are perfect partners. The community gathering spot is thriving as July begins its descent and the pool's swim team wrapped up another successful season of dual meets last week.
The 2-acre oasis on Hampton Lane boasts 250 family memberships with a long waiting list to join them, not to mention the pool's team, the Hammerheads, annual contenders for supremacy in the Freestate Swim League, which includes nine pools in northern and/or eastern Baltimore County.
Coach Molly Mulderrig knows firsthand about how to build and maintain an elite summer swim team, considering she was at one time a key swimmer for Hampton's archrival, Stoneleigh, when the Sharks began to consistently win the league title.
Moreover, her older sister, Maggie, coached Hampton to successive undefeated campaigns in 2012 and 2013 until handing the reins to her younger sibling this summer.
The Sharks, however, bounced back last week by posting a razor-thin 252-251 win against Hampton in front of a large and exuberant crowd at Hampton, proving the Hammerheads still possess enough depth, talent and enthusiasm to be among the league's elite — if no longer unbeaten — teams.
"When it's that close, you can't look at any one race (as a turning point)," said Brian Loefler, who coaches Stoneleigh's team along with Tom Till. "There are just so many things that could have gone the other way."
The effort by the swimmers in the Stoneleigh-Hampton meet typifies what summer swim teams are all about.
"I can't fault the kids," Molly Mulderrig said. "They swam their hearts out."
Just the crowd size and the decibel level emanating from it when the final tally was announced on July 16 was an indication that summer swim meets are fun events where teammates, ranging from pre-schoolers to recent high school graduates, work toward a common goal — winning.
"That's the only place you find 4-year-olds on the same team with people who are 18," said Maggie Mulderrig, who grew up in Stoneleigh and now lives in Canton.
Despite the fun atmosphere, there's an undercurrent of competition that makes summer swimming mean much more than a just dip in the pool to cool off.
And while year-round club swimmers, from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Loyola Blakefield Aquatics, Cardinal and Gold Aquatics and other local programs often excel on their respective summer teams, seasonal swimmers aren't shy about joining in the fun.
Ted Williams, a rising senior who plays football and rugby but does not swim at Calvert Hall, said that "it takes about three weeks" for him to get in decent summer swimming shape.
"It's a lot of fun," the Hampton resident said about competing in the freestyle, backstroke and butterfly this summer. "But you want to win, too."
Maggie Mulderrig was another non-club swimmer during her days with the Sharks.
Although she swam for Notre Dame Prep, she enjoyed too many other sports — volleyball, soccer, lacrosse and track — to stick to year-round swimming.
Still, she was a sprint freestyle and butterfly specialist at Gettysburg College, despite not having a club background.
Year-round swimmers do have an obvious advantage in the summertime, considering they are typically in peak condition as big end-of-season club meets are scheduled for the same time that important summer meets are held.
Mary Kate Clancy, for instance, set a pool record in the 100-yard individual medley in the July 16 Stoneleigh/Hampton meet, adding one more new standard to the slew she already claims.
The rising senior at Notre Dame Preparatory School is a standout at LBA and one of the most accomplished prep swimmers in the area for the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champion Blazers.
While Clancy has at least one year left with the Hammerheads, former NDP and LBA teammate K. C. Paltell said she "never thought about" the effect performing in a summer meet would have on her club career.
"It was never an issue for me," said the University of Virginia student, who finished her 14th year swimming for the Sharks with a victory in the 50-yard butterfly in last week's meet. "The energy and excitement (from a big summer meet) was worth it. It really was not that draining."
The longtime Stoneleigh resident Paltell added that because club swimmers are faster than their seasonal counterparts, "there can be some resentment, and we don't practice with them. We practice with our club teams. But we are an integral part of our summer teams."
Paltell said there are other benefits for club swimmers in addition to the camaraderie of competing with and for your community team.
"In a lot of ways, you're a big fish in a small pond," she said. "It gives you confidence."
Molly Mulderrig said she that teaching the basics of the sport to seasonal competitors is part and parcel of the summer swimming scene and one
"For them, learning technique is great, like helping them on their flip turns" the Bucknell University student said. "It's something they can have for the rest of their lives."