As one stellar high school swimming career comes to an end, another one is blossoming.
Merced High’s Mireya Ortega will soon be turning her attention to her college career, which begins this fall at Fresno Pacific University. Atwater High sophomore Connor Norton surprised himself with the success he had in his first full high school swimming season.
Ortega finished her career with a pair of Central California Conference individual championships. Norton also won two CCC titles and won a pair of frosh-soph championships at the Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
Ortega and Norton are the Sun-Star Swimmers of the Year.
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One common theme with Ortega and Norton is their desire to win.
“She’s super-competitive,” Merced High coach Kit Grattan said. “She hates to lose. She’s only lost a few races. No matter what the challenge, who the competition is or what level she’s at, she wants to win. That’s helped her throughout high school.”
Norton’s competitiveness spills from the pool to the classroom. Atwater coach David Svendsen says Norton will come into his classroom complaining when he doesn’t get the top grade on a test in another classroom.
“He’s a phenomenal kid,” Svendsen said. “I think he has a 4.1 or 4.2 GPA, he’s involved in the classroom, he’s involved in leadership, he’s involved in school. He knows where his priorities should lie. He’s got the same work ethic in the classroom that he does in the pool.”
Norton swam part time his freshman season because he also played baseball. This year he decided to hang up his glove and bat to focus on swimming full time.
Norton decided swimming would help him become a better water polo player.
“Baseball was getting a little boring for me,” he said. “Not that it’s a boring sport, but I wasn’t as interested in playing. I knew I had to get faster and stronger to compete with those guys in water polo.”
“I think he’s seen the value in consistency,” Svendsen added. “Swimming is going to help get him in shape for water polo. It’s going to help him expand his game. You look at his freshman year: He got tired. He had his two really big games against Merced, in that overtime game, and Buhach Colony. Both of those games were in the first half of the season. In the second round of league, I think he got tired. He got worn down.
“Swimming is not his No. 1 sport, but he realizes there is a beneficial byproduct because it helps him in water polo.”
Norton won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events at the CCC championships with times of 22.0 and 48.15 seconds, respectively.
He then won the 50 (21.95) and 100 (48.03) in the frosh-soph section championships a few weeks later to wrap up his successful season.
“My main goal was to win a varsity league championship,” Norton said. “I didn’t expect to do as much at sections. That just added to my season. During sections my heart was pumping really hard. I was super-nervous and pumped up. It pushed me through the races.”
Ortega’s season didn’t finish the way she wanted. The Bears star did win the consolation title in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:05.96. However, she wasn’t able to top her own personal record of 1:05.36, which she set as a junior at last year’s section meet.
“I was swimming well throughout the year and I was continually dropping times,” Ortega said. “I couldn’t wait until sections to see how much more I could drop my times.”
Although it was a disappointing end to the season, it was still a successful one that saw Ortega win CCC championships in the 200 individual medley (2:15.85) and the 100 breaststroke (1:06.10).
“She’s helped us in relays,” Grattan said. “I’ve been able to put her in any individual event and she’ll help us out. She’s maybe lost one or two times.”
Swimming has been Ortega’s passion since she was little. She began swimming competitively at 5 years old and it’s opened the door to her swimming next year at Fresno Pacific University.
“What I like about swimming is it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short,” Ortega said. “It’s about your technique. Of course, it helps if you’re tall, but it’s more about how you swim that matters.”
Grattan feels Ortega is only going to get better in college with her work ethic and dedication.
“I think I’ll be starting back at the bottom and that’s going to provide motivation,” Ortega said. “I know if I want to be better it’s going to be a challenge because in college everyone works hard and they are just as good or better than you.”
All-Area Swimming Teams
Ethan Eagleton (Senior), Merced
Tristan Howard (Senior), Buhach Colony
Luke van Warmerdam (Freshman), Atwater
Abraham Santana (Junior), Merced
Jacob Mumford (Junior), El Capitan
Nick Formby (Senior), Merced
Zak Jones (Junior), El Capitan
Carter Azevedo (Sophomore), Hilmar
Sam Kuykendall (Senior), Merced
Coach – Kit Grattan, Merced
Gwynne McBride (Junior), Buhach Colony
Kathryn Elgin (Senior), Merced
Marion Carpenter (Junior), El Capitan
Pamela Solano (Sophomore), Buhach Colony
Marissa Wyan (Senior), Golden Valley
Metzli Enriquez (Junior), El Capitan
Emma Seifert (Junior), Buhach Colony
Abigail Williams (Freshman), Hilmar
Alexandra Marquez (Senior), Los Banos
Coach – Kristie Dunham, El Capitan
Tuesday: Boys golf
Wednesday: Boys tennis
Thursday: Track and field
Friday: Girls soccer