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Merced College hoping for repeat

The Merced College men's and women's swim teams made history in 2008.

Coaches Bill Halpin and Scott McCall don't see a reason 2009 should be any different.

The swim teams became the first in school history to simultaneously win conference titles.

Now they'll attempt to be the first to do it in back-to-back years.

"I think we will," said Halpin of defending the program's Bay Valley championships. "Collectively, we have the most kids the MC swim programs have ever seen while I've been here.

"We're every bit as talented -- if not more so -- than last year's teams.

"We should have a very good chance of defending our titles."

There's nothing like a little success to boost your ranks. Halpin's women's team has an MC-record 26 participants out.

Heading Halpin's returners is record-setting diver Katherine Copenhagen.

The sophomore set the Blue Devils' 3-meter, six-dive record last season and earned All-American honors.

Halpin believes he's added some swimmers to complement Copenhagen.

Freshman Kaylie Carter and Brittany Wilson -- both of whom played water polo for MC -- have the potential to make a run at a state berth.

"We don't want to be too confident, because teams can get better, but we're hoping," Carter said. "We didn't do as well in water polo as we thought we could, so we've been talking about getting it back in swimming for a while."

The men only return three sophomores from last year's championship team, but what the men lack in experience, they make up for in talent.

Water polo star Chris Tanzillo will anchor the team in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events.

Freshmen Mark Pickering and Daniel and David Salinas have the potential to make a splash in their first collegiate season.

"There's still excitement from what we did last year," McCall said. "This group is ready to train and try and repeat as champions.

"It's real competitive in practice, which is what you're looking for as a coach."

The swim teams kick their season's off today at the Central Valley Sprint Meet in Modesto.

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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