By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hilmar student-athletes set the standard for fast-growing swim program
Hilmar swim
Members of the Hilmar High boys swimming team celebrate as head coach Howard Tremble lifts the Sac-Joaquin Section D-3 runner-up plaque last week (Photo contributed).

It’s been 15 years since Howard Tremble and his coaching staff began their quest of building Hilmar High School’s swimming program from the ground up. The 2024 season has proven that hard work pays off, as it has resulted in what Tremble has called “the greatest season in the history of the school.”

That’s a heavy statement. But it was backed up with heavy hardware.

This year, the Yellowjackets’ boys team lifted a plaque to commemorate their runner-up finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 team championships. They only finished behind mighty St. Mary’s of Stockton. Along the way, the swimmers were able to combine for 17 team records this season.

“It’s an accomplishment itself when you’re runners up to St. Mary’s,” Tremble said, referring to the fact that the Rams are typically a Division 1 school for other sports. “If that's the team we're losing to, St. Mary's, we just have to accept that. It tells us we must be doing something right.”

The Yellowjackets have done most of their training at their home pool beside the campus of Hilmar High, an aquatics facility constructed in the 1950s. It isn’t even a regulation pool, with there not being enough lanes and it being far too long. Tremble believes persevering through the circumstances has only made his team of 22 swimmers stronger.

Braxton Belerique, a senior with a college offer from Ottawa University in Arizona, leaves behind perhaps one of the most storied careers in the young Hilmar swimming program, holding six individual school records — 50-yard freestyle (22.35), 100 free (49.63), 200 free (1:55.39), 500 free (5:24.4), 50 breaststroke (29.52) and 100 breast (1:02.03). All but the 50 breaststroke record was set this season. Additionally, he was a member of the relay teams alongside Ryan Barcelos, Cooper Cox and Spencer Cox that set six relay records.

“It’s just been awesome being able to be with my team and serving as captain, working so hard for almost six months now,” Belerique said. “Being able to just see the work pay off, it’s definitely worth it.”

His twin sister, Sofia, displayed similar dominance in girls competitions, owning seven records — 50 free (25.93), 200 free (2:06.18), 500 free (5:49.98), 50 backstroke (30.55), 100 back (1:06.63), 50 breast (35.76) and 100 butterfly (1:02.93). She also contributed to the 100 freestyle relay record of 52.47 with Saige Parrish, Sarah Anderson and Nora Jorge.

Spencer Cox, a junior, is the proud owner of the 50 back and 100 breast school records, with 26.28 and 56.45 times, respectively. With he and his twin brother, Cooper, set to return next year, he believes they can continue the program’s recent run of success.

“It’s a really good achievement, but I think we can achieve even more later on and continue to set the standard for future generations,” he said.

The group of Belerique, Barcelos and the Cox brothers set the mark for the 100 free relay (41.61), 200 free relay (1:28.94), 400 free relay (3:18.10), 100 medley relay (49.51), 200 medley relay (1:41.10) and 400 medley relay (4:01.85). Individually, Barcelos’ time of 54.50 seconds in the 100 butterfly was a school best.

“This is like my biggest achievement in life at this point,” said Barcelos, a senior committed to swim at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. “We put all of our heart and effort into this and trying to balance this with school. I never thought I'd make it to sections for anything. For us to destroy all the records, it's amazing.”

Cooper Cox, like his brother, is proud of what the program accomplished this season, but is hungry for more.

“Me and my brother, we need to recruit people from our classes or something,” he said. “I tell people at school that swimming here is not a joke. If St. Mary’s can get out of our division (due to competitive balance), we can bring back a blue flag. So our overall goal for next season is to bring more people into  swimming and continue to put in a lot more work than anyone else.”