NISKAYUNA — Liz Wheeler, Niskayuna High School’s diving coach, speaks glowingly of junior Taylor Barber. The 16-year-old competes at a high level in her sport, does well in the classroom, and has the type of personality that Wheeler could see leading her to become a coach one day herself.
“Taylor’s your typical great student-athlete,” Wheeler summed up.
Barber, though, is in an atypical situation.
While she practices each day with the Niskayuna girls’ swimming and diving team and competes at its meets, Barber is not a member of the squad. She’s her own team.
“I represent my school,” said Barber, who has attended Schenectady’s Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons since the sixth grade. “It’s just me.”
Since Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons does not have its own swim team, Barber has been allowed since the 2014 season to train and compete alongside the Niskayuna team. She dives as an independent exhibition competitor at Niskayuna’s league meets, but is able to use her scores from those meets to qualify for the Section II championships later this fall where she will compete — and score — as the entirety of the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons team. Last year, Barber finished in fifth place in the Section II
Division II diving competition.
“That was really cool,” said Barber, who lives in Niskayuna.
Since she started her high school diving career, Barber has carried with her an enthusiastic attitude. She generally gets to her practices about a half-hour later than the girls on the Niskayuna team because she has to drive from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons to the Silver Warriors’ pool, but she quickly makes up for the lost time.
“She has great energy,” said Niskayuna junior Maddie
McCarthy, a fellow diver.
“Taylor’s always looking for what she can do better on her next dive,” Wheeler added.
Wheeler started coaching Barber as part of the Niskayuna Wild Turkeys, a summer swim club. That’s where Barber learned she liked diving better than swimming, and where Wheeler first offered up the idea that Barber could train with the Silver Warriors during the school season. While rare, it’s not unheard of for a swimmer or diver to compete for his or her own school while attached to another — but Barber had never known it was possible.
“Oh my gosh,” she remembered telling Wheeler. “I’d love to do that.”
From the start, Barber has fit in with the rest of the Silver Warriors, some of whom she knew before she started diving alongside them. McCarthy said the Niskayuna team members consider Barber to be one of them, even if she can’t score any points in the pool for the Silver Warriors.
“She’s involved in all our team bonding stuff,” McCarthy said. “She’s Nisky, like us.”
But she’s proud to represent Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons. While Barber cheers alongside the rest of the Silver Warriors during meets for Niskayuna to win its team matchup, she said several of her school friends regularly come to Niskayuna’s home meets, decked out in Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons colors, to cheer for her during the diving portion.
Since she makes up her own team, Barber gets to pick her own uniform. She’s diving in a blue swimsuit this season and wore a maroon one a year ago, as she’s working her way through her school’s colors. With the enthusiastic way she cheers for the Niskayuna swimmers and divers, her attire is the only giveaway she’s not a Silver Warrior.
“You’d never know she wasn’t one of our divers,” Wheeler said, “except for the color of her bathing suit.”