When the teams walk out onto the pool deck at Oakland University on March 13 there will be only a handful of teams with a real shot at winning it all – Pioneer is clearly one of those teams. But Vaughn Hajra isn’t about to make any predictions, let alone promises.
Well, he will make one promise. The Pioneers will do the best they can.
“This year we decided as a team not to make placement goals for any meets – we can only control how we perform as a team and individuals, not how other teams swim,” says Hajra, the talented senior swimmer.
That being said …
“We made about 15 team goals, which include things like supporting each other at meets and practice,” Hajra continues. “If we can hold ourselves accountable to these many little goals every day, the big things will follow. So far, this approach has been very successful.”
The Pioneers are a lot of things – deep, young and motivated among them. But talented is certainly at the top of the list.
“Some keys to success for this team will be swimmers stepping up in relays, and being mindful of how we recover out of the water to make the most of every practice,” says Hajra. “We have some of the best coaches in the state, and if we embrace their coaching, we will be successful.”
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try or even if it’s part of your DNA, a sport just isn’t the right fit. For Hajra, he realized this early enough to discover something that he not only loved, but as it turns out, was exceptional at in swimming.
“When I was young, I always thought soccer was my sport,” he says. “My mom was a member of the first women’s varsity soccer team at U-M, and I was playing Rec & Ed as well as travel soccer all through elementary school. Ultimately, though, I decided it wasn’t the perfect fit for me.”
Hajra played a lot of different sports in middle school, including basketball, volleyball, cross country and track. So, when and where did swimming make a big splash in his life?
“I swam for Georgetown Country Club’s WISC team in the summers and ultimately transitioned to the YMCA swim team,” he says. “From there I swam for the Ypsi Otters Swim Club for two years where I made many great friends. I finally found a home with Saline Swim Team in eighth grade, where I’ve been swimming since.
“Every year I’ve been swimming, I have come to enjoy it a little more. Looking back, slowly transitioning into competitive swimming really helped me grow into the swimmer I am today.”
As a freshman, Hajra didn’t make it to states but did compete at MISCA. He achieved his first state cut in the 100 breaststroke at the MISCA meet as a sophomore. He took his swimming to another level last year as a junior.
“My junior year was another great experience, and both my own swimming improved and the competitiveness of my team increased,” said Hajra, who again qualified for the states in the breaststroke and also swam on the medley relay at the state meet. “We won all of our meets but States last year, and although winning is fun, some of my best memories come from training and team bonding experiences with my teammates.”
One of last year’s highlights included taking the top four spots in the breaststroke at the SEC league meet. Matthew Segal, Hajra, Henri Schneehagen and Anthony Gibbons went one-two-three-four.
“We spent a lot of time training and competing together at practice, and to see all that hard work pay off on such a big stage felt really special,” he said.
Hajra says this year’s Pioneer team culture is fun and highly competitive.
Every time we have a good day as a team, the subsequent days domino into an even stronger, more supportive, team atmosphere,” he says. “We have a great group of captains this year, including Koa Williams and Tristan Serr with myself, and together we’ve been focused on creating an atmosphere of both working hard and having fun.
Hajra admits he wasn’t “always the fastest swimmer.” But he’s always tried to do his best to be a great example for the younger swimmers to understand they can be as fast as they want to be.
He says he has had some great leaders of his own to follow including past and present Pioneer coaches (Stef, Jesse, Pat, Jason and Katlynn). And, of course, his parents.
“I want to thank my parents, neither of whom have a huge swim background, but both of them have gone out of their way to continuously support my swimming,” he says.
Vaughn, the son of Neel Hajra and Karen McLean, also makes a big splash outside of the pool. He has a 3.955 GPA and is a member of Pioneer’s Marching Band and Symphony Band. He also is a member of DECA (business competition), National Honors Society and Pioneer’s “Rising Scholars” (a volunteer / leadership program).
Vaughn, a MHSAA Scholar-Athlete Award finalist, has committed to swim for Kenyon College next year. “Kenyon embraces the Midwest feel I have come to enjoy, and both the academics and team culture really stood out to me when I was on campus,” he says. “I’m super excited to swim for Kenyon.”
All photos by Bethany Williston