Sisters in Swim

For nearly nine years, senior Maria Oushalkas and her sister, freshman Bella Oushalkas, have been swimming side by side. However, this year, they are swimming even closer together as the girls hold positions in the same relay group for the Redhawks swim and dive team.

“I have been swimming for 14 years now (and Bella for nine years),” Maria said. “We trained together on the same team for almost our entire lives except for last year when we were on different teams.”

The girls began their career together swimming for fun with FASST, and now compete competitively with Iron Horse.

“I think it’s cool being on the same team as Maria,” Bella said. “I love getting to see her all of the time and being able to spend that time with her that not many other people get.”

Building a family-like bond between team members is a big goal of head coach Zachariah Gnoza, with the addition of Bella a step in the right direction.

“Having siblings on the same team has created a positive atmosphere,” Gnoza said. “I tell the kids that the team is like family and having siblings helps mold that family dynamic even more. I grew up swimming with my siblings by my side and it helped create the team culture that we wanted and made it very fun for everyone.”

The team is like family and having siblings helps mold that family dynamic even more”

— head coach Zachariah Gnoza

Even after all of the time spent together swimming outside of

school, having her sister on the Redhawks team is allowing Maria to get to know her sister a little better.

“It’s interesting seeing her personality for sure come out because I haven’t swam with her in the same group ever, so to see her be herself is kind of fun to watch as an older sister,” Maria said. “I mean, I definitely enjoy it. It’s something I have always wanted to do.”

While many may feel intimidated in a similar situation, Bella has full confidence in herself.

“I don’t really feel like I have any more motivation by having Maria on the team,” Bella said. “I usually just do what I want. I feel like it doesn’t matter what she thinks of me.”

However, the girls’ dad, Tom Oushalkas, has a different perspective.

“This year they have especially grown closer,” Tom said. “High school swim is more team based then individual and there is an “Us against Them” mentality to win against other schools. They are also trying diving for the first time and are both very supportive of each other as they learn the different dives.”

Making the UIL State Swim meet is something Maria’s done all three years of high school so far. This year, she hopes to make it a four-peat, but with her sister by her side.

“I am looking forward to hopefully going to state with her and having that opportunity to say that I did it with my sister before I left,” Maria said. “It would definitely be a big win to me and hopefully to her too.”

Having his girls swim together in high school is something that Tom is looking forward to, closing out his eldest’s final year.

“Anybody who swims competitively knows it’s a love/hate relationship,” Tom said. “So when you have someone there who understands what you are going through it’s great. When that person is your sister it’s even more important because they know absolutely everything about you and there is complete trust.”

When you have someone there who understands what you are going through it’s great”

— dad Tom Oushalkas

With the swim season beginning Thursday, Gnoza is excited for what is to come for the athletes.

“I am very sad, but excited to see Maria enjoy her senior year and get to spend it with her sister by her side,” Gnoza said. “I am very excited to see what Bella has to offer to the Liberty swim and dive team as well as the rest of the team. It is going to be a great season.”