“I would say it’s kind of an advantage,” said Coats, “because there isn’t a lot of expectation out there right now from the other coaches or other team. The kids aren’t feeling the major pressure like we have had in the past.”
Since Liberty fields a girls swim team of two seniors, three juniors and 27 freshmen, and a boys team that is almost as young, this season isn’t as much about winning races as learning to swim competitively.
“I had to start with the very basics,” Coats said, “such as how to breath correctly so they aren’t causing drag to make them slower.”
As only one dual meet remains before the pivotal Bay Valley Athletic League Preliminaries on May 11, and only senior JT Sarmento qualified so far for the North Coast Section preliminaries, the Lions are trying to improve on the fly while looking toward the future.
Any hint of incremental improvement – such as freshman Jennie Wirstlin’s move into the sixth overall position in the breaststroke on the JV team during Liberty’s meet with Deer Valley last Friday – is viewed as evidence of a bright future.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of our basic technique level,” junior Brett Hannigan said. “I think we’re getting people who are going to be sticking around more, and kids who are actually involved in the sport, so we’re going to see improvement from those types of people.”
Freshman Ashley Ellcessor (50-yard freestyle), senior Paige Lange (100-yard freestyle), juniors Callie Rainsford (100-yard individual medley) and Rosie Doria (50- and 100-yard freestyle) have been consistent individual performers this season.
The foursome finished second in the 200-meter freestyle relay against Deer Valley in the Lions loss on Friday.
The boys team has been anchored this season by Sarmento (200- and 500-yard individual medley and Hannigan (500-yard freestyle). Led by Sarmento, who has accepted a water polo scholarship to Pacific, the trio helped the boys team defeat Freedom and made a nice showing at the Vallejo Invitational earlier this season, its two best performances of the year.
“It’s definitely a year where we’re developing a better team for next year,” Sarmento said. “I’m trying to make it good and contribute to the younger swimmers as much as I can.”
The girls and boys relay teams have qualified for NCS consideration, which means they’re in the bottom 10 of 40 NCS teams and must wait till May 14, when seedings are announced, to see if they’ve secured a spot.
Coats is excited to see how her team finishes this season at the BVAL Championship Meet, which begins May 11, since limitations in dual meets prevent all swimmers from competing in their best races. “I think we kind of got what we expected,” Coats said. “It’s a very young team, which bodes well for a couple of years.”
The Lions finish off the regular season against Heritage on May 4.