After 18 seasons, North Carolina A&T State University's women's swimming team swam its final lap in the school's history. The end came Feb. 21 at the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association championships in Athens, Georgia. After the fate of the program was announced in 2013, the only women's historically black colleges and universities Division I swim program is officially a thing of the past, leaving Howard University, its MEAC conference competitor -- and an integrated team -- the only surviving HBCU swim program out of more than 100 institutions.
We spoke to five of A&T's 11 members -- Aarica Carrington (21) co-captain and senior; Dominique Crable (21) senior; Kenya Dunn (22) senior; Justice Montgomery (20) sophomore; and Victoria Orr (22) co-captain and senior -- about how it felt to represent their team in the final swimming championship meet.
espnW: How did you prepare for your final meet?
Aarica Carrington: We listen to music. All kinds, but mostly trap music because it gets us excited. Before every meet, we make posters. We have chants that we do. 1-2-3 last of dying breed! That's our main one -- the last of a dying breed.
Justice Montgomery: Our meet chants are also our school chants because they're all so lit. We use our "A-G-G-I-E what? P-R-I-D-E what? Give me that! Give me that! What?" And then me and my best friend, before either of us swim our individual meets or our relays, we give each other our life lessons so that we swim faster. We divide the handshake to trade energy from each other so that we have more energy to swim faster. So that's a big ritual. We used that a lot at championship.
Dominique Crable: I always pray when I wake up. On the bus ride to the meet I read an inspirational poem that my Dad made for me when I first started swimming, and I've had it ever since. I played music before I swam, and then when I got behind the block, I prayed again.
Victoria Orr: I like to listen to Lil' Boosie. He gets me really hype. When I listened to him that day, I dropped 9 seconds off my time during the morning prelims. When we came back at night and swam, I dropped another 7 seconds.
espnW: Were you more nervous to compete because of what the day represented?
Carrington: Yes, that was the last relay our school would ever be a part of. I was the first one to go on the last relay team of A&T. I guess it was a lot of pressure because everyone was watching us and Howard go against each other for the last time. So you had all eyes on us.
espnW: Walk us through that day.
Dunn: I will probably never forget that day, ever. Every year they recognize the seniors. Normally they're announced in alphabetical order. But this time, they were calling out all of the names and we were like, "When are we going?" They went through all of the schools. They called our names last. Once it was our turn, they paused and recognized coach Shawn Hendrix for everything she's done for the past 17 years. It was really special. First of all, I didn't expect this. Everyone has only said positive things about us -- how we brought positivity to the meets. The announcer became really emotional at the end. I guess she's known coach for a minute, and so it was really just an emotional moment for her to give her last farewell to our program. And then at the end, all of the other teams chanted "A&T! A&T!" Then Howard and our team did our HBCU chant. Howard started with "HU -- you know!" We replied, "Aggie pride -- you know!"
espnW: How did it feel receiving such a warm reception?
Dunn: It was a really special moment to have support from the other teams in the conference. Sometimes in the midst of this journey, you kind of feel no one really understands what you go through or no one really supports what you're doing.
Carrington: It felt good to be recognized and seen not only as black girls, but to be respected in the sport that night. From all the years and all the times people looked at us like we didn't matter -- that moment meant a lot to us.
espnW: Did you get emotional?
Carrington: We're very strong as a team. We can hide things very well, but in that moment you saw all of us breaking a little bit. It was just a moment that you wanted all of your family and all of the people that supported you to be there and enjoy with you.
Montgomery: Yes, it's amazing what people's energy can do to you.
espnW: Was it also a bittersweet experience?
Orr: Definitely. It's sad it's coming to an end.
Dunn: It was more sweet to me because of how positive the reception was. Seeing the impact that we're having just kind of proves that A&T swimming is worth it.
espnW: Was it more special having Howard there?
Dunn: Oh yeah! I think that's what made it the most special. Having the only other HBCU there, who has also had their issues and obstacles with their program, made it a day that I won't forget.
espnW: How would you like people to remember A&T's swim program? What will its legacy be?
Montgomery: I want them to understand that A&T was a team of sisters who did everything they could for each other.
Crable: People should remember the team as having a positive impact on others, especially young black swimmers. We have received thank you letters from parents stating how their daughter wants to be like us.
Carrington: That as a team, we know how to keep our heads held high, no matter the situation.
Dunn: Our goal this season was to be positive the whole time. We wanted to remain resilient. It's important when you get thrown obstacles to be able to bounce back. We could've played the woe-is-me card. But we all embraced what was happening and used that to our advantage to build confidence and character.
Orr: If someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to show you better than I can tell you. I'm all about actions -- they speak louder than words. So, we weren't going to walk around with our heads down. No, no, no. We were going to go out with our heads up.