Turlock, Pitman, Turlock Christian and Hilmar High swimmers have been hitting the pools, some new and others returning, with high hopes of individual and team victories.
The Pitman Pride girls swim team had a successful season last year as they placed 1st at the Stanislaus County Championships and second in the Central California Conference, behind Merced.
Now, head coach Michaela Solario, who graduated seven seniors last year, looks to her three seniors to fill that void and lead the team. Taylor Jarvis, Emma Burke and Kelli Coffel will be the senior leaders after each one placed top-three in last year’s CCC tournament.
“All of the girls want to be first at CCC's, it is a goal they all share and we are working very hard in and out of the pool to achieve this goal,” Solario said. “We also have a diver who will placed top three in our section at the varsity level as a sophomore, a very talented young lady in Natasha Sondeno.”
On the boys side, the Pride placed fourth last season as they struggled to find a groove as it seemed to be a "rough season," head coach Ryan Bullar said.
“We had a senior for two meets and from there on it was an underclassmen squad,” Bullar said. "We had a strong JV team and won conference so a lot of them are coming this year into varsity."
Bullar will coach a squad that will consist of five seniors, four sophomores and the rest juniors. The guys to look out for will be Josh Buck, Tanner Day, Nathan Olson, Stuart Backstrom, Gavin Madrigal, Alex Rosero and Alex Selee.
"I think we will obviously finish a lot better than last season, I have no doubt we will improve. There's a couple of big meets and it could go any way for us,” Bullar said. “We have to be ready and we all need to be healthy and work on practice and if we can get it all together we should be fine.”
The Turlock High Bulldogs welcome new head coaches for the boys and the girls teams. Lauren Bettencourt will coach the girls and Nick Serratos, who worked as an assistant the past two years, is the new boys head coach.
“I was here the last two years, so it wasn’t a huge transition, I know most of the boys on the team, so I knew their skill level. I just brought a new way of training, which is a lot more intense. Nothing too drastic though… this year we don’t have a very big varsity team, we are kind of rebuilding,” Serratos said.
It’s a very young squad this year as only three seniors will be on this year’s Bulldogs boys team — CJ Cossey, Juan Carrillo and Marcelino Ramirez. All are very strong swimmers and should place in sections Serratos added.
“Last year we had a big senior class. We have a limited number of guys, but JV looks good so it should carry over for the next couple of years,” Serratos said. “I expect a lot of good times with the guys; we do have a handful of individual swimmers that should be top three, but I don’t think we can challenge Merced.”
On the girls side in Bettencourt’s first stint as head coach, she welcomes back her top swimmers in Rebekah Groteguth, Lucy Deitz, as well as breaststroke specialist in Sarah Phillips.
“I am passionate; I really love these girls, and I coached most through water polo, so I have motivation to improve their swimming as well,” Bettencourt said. “I called up four freshmen and a couple of sophomores to my varsity team, very young team but a lot of fast girls.”
Groteguth already qualified for sectionals at last week’s event before league has even started.
“We're pushing the intensity of practices and they are tired, but as the season goes on they will be able to push through and improve their times. They're working hard right now and putting in a lot of time,” Bettencourt said. “I think we have a great group.”
Both Turlock Christian and Hilmar have much smaller squads that compete in dual meets for individual times, since they can still advance to sections, due to the building of the programs.
Hilmar welcomes 30 kids in this year's varsity squad as they continue to build their program for head coach Howard Tremble.
Last year the Yellowjackets had two section swimmers including Elizabeth Anderson, who should be a vital asset this year.
“Most of our kids are very young, no four-year seniors. We're still very young trying to get the swim thing going for Hilmar,” Tremble said. “Everything looks up and should put at least four girls in varsity sections. As a young team, we need to be real and the talent is there, they just need to get that experience at the high school level and we should have great things to come in the future.”
TC had five swimmers last year but this year, the Eagles have three returners and welcome four freshmen to make up a bigger squad than last year.
Sophomore McCalister Russell, who went to sections as a freshman, is back and should have some improvement in her times along with another section run.
“This year I have four kids that have swimming background but not the others, they don’t have technical skills and that’s what I work on with those kids and according to their ability, I work with them and I work on technique,” TC head coach Robert Baker said. “Number one thing is discipline and working hard.”