When the Merced High boys swimming team held time trials at the beginning of the season, only two swimmers turned in sub 60-second times in the 100-yard freestyle.
“We had no real superstars,” said Bears coach Kit Grattan. “We were really a medium level team. We were surely coming into the season as underdogs.”
That’s why there was such a euphoric feeling that swept over the team as they learned they won the Central California Conference championship on Thursday at the CCC Swimming Championships at El Capitan High. The Merced girls joined the boys in the pool as the Bears made it a clean sweep.
Both programs won their 10th CCC championship in the last 11 years.
“It’s crazy being a three-time champ,” said senior Sophia Hart, who won the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:24.06. “We’re such a close team. Everyone on the team is friends. Almost every one of our girls reached the finals. The boys, nobody thought they could do it, but they did.”
The Merced boys went undefeated in the dual meets and then edged El Capitan with 520.5 points to the Gauchos’ 514 at the CCC meet on Thursday. Buhach Colony was a close third with 508 points.
The Bears were led by junior David Chen, who took home individual titles in the 200 IM (2:00.34) and 500 freestyle (5:01.03). Nick Eckles added a win in the 100 backstroke (55.71) and finished second in the 100 freestyle (50.53). Merced’s Logan McIintosh also won the 1-meter diving.
Grattan says Chen is one of the anchors of the team.
“He’s so smart and mature,” Grattan said. “He’s always positive and encouraging the others to work hard. When you’re clearly better than everyone sometimes you go work on your own. He’s never been one to work on his own. He encourages the others and he does a little coaching of his own, telling kids to try to this or work on that.”
The Merced girls, who also went 7-0 in dual meets, won the CCC meet going away with 572 points. El Capitan finished second with 477.5 points.
The Bears were led by Emily Trejo, won was a double-winner with victories in the 100 breaststroke ( 1:08.77) and 100 freestyle (56.63). Katarina Capulong also won the 500 freestyle (5:46.93).
“This whole team, nobody ever complained,” Grattan said. “As a team, they just connected. They did some things outside of the pool as a team, and I think that made a big difference.”
The Bears swimmers and coaches celebrated the championships by jumping in the pool.
“We were the underdogs,” Chen said. “When we beat Buhach Colony in our first meet we thought there was a glimmer of hope. When we beat El Capitan we thought this isn’t a dream anymore, we’ve got a shot at this. This championship wasn’t given to us. This was a hard-earned, undefeated season.”
There were other local highlights from the meet.
El Capitan sophomore Kendall Thomas won two events with victories in the 200 freestyle (2:07.12) and 100 backstroke (1:01.28).
“I feel really good about the wins,” Thomas said. “This season was really fun. I enjoyed hanging out with all the girls. This was a good ending to the season.”
Buhach Colony’s Gabby Perez also won two events, Perez touched the wall first in the 50 freestyle (26.44) and also picked up a victory in the 100 butterfly (1:02.67).
On the boys side, El Capitan’s Kaileb Michael took home titles in the 200 freestyle (1:49.42) and the 100 butterfly (52.08).
Other local winners included El Capitan’s Tanner Maghoney in the 50 freestle (22.60), Buhach Colony’s Aaron Helfgott in the 100 freestyle (49.84), El Capitan’s Aiden Ramirez in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.00) and Golden Valley’s Sadies Dinh in the 1-meter diving.