Frigid as it was outside last Saturday, Feb. 12, for dozens of high school swimmers inside the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, the air was warm with the thick scent of chlorine and tension. There, 14 northern New Mexico schools faced off in the 2011 District 1-A 5-A Swimming and Diving Championships as hundreds of spectators watched.
Categories included freestyle, individual medley, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and relay races. The afternoon culminated in a 400-yard freestyle relay in which St. Michael's High School triumphed among boys and Desert Academy for girls. Both schools achieved victory by merely three-and-a-half seconds.
Overall, St. Michael's and Los Alamos High School came out on top. St. Michael's finished first for boys and third for girls, while Los Alamos finished first among girls and second among boys.
St. Michael's head coach Lynda Trujillo credits her team's across-the-board success to careful tailoring. Each swimmer was trained for his or her specific event.
"For instance, my daughter is qualified for state in the 200 IM and the 500 free so we really focus on strength-building, especially strengthening up that endurance," Trujillo says. "With Drew Fant, on the other hand, we mostly focus on sprinting." Fant, St. Michael's top sprinter, finished first in both the boys' 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke. He returned to competitive swimming after suffering knee problems during the off-season.
"I'm very excited he's back at that level," Trujillo says. "He didn't really get back into the pool until the end of December."
Santa Fe's other schools also did well.
Santa Fe Prep overall finished third-place among boys and seventh among girls; the Academy for Technology and the Classics fourth-place for boys and tenth for girls; and Desert Academy fourth-place for girls and sixth for boys. Santa Fe High School finished second on the girls' side. SFHS's boys placed fifth.
SFHS head coach Theresa Hamilton was pleased by the achievement, but her work is far from over. Three of her swimmers advanced to the Feb. 18 and 19 state championships.
"Whoever placed first and second in each event gets to go to state: the district winner and the district runner-up," she says.
Hamilton's state-bound pupils include freshman Alina Castillo, who placed second in the girls' 200-yard IM; sophomore Ruben Barela, who finished first in boys' 200-yard freestyle; and senior Tiffaney Jaramillo, who not only placed first in the girls' 100-yard freestyle but was the only one of over 30 girls to complete the swim in less than one minute, at 58.37 seconds.
Fortunately, these super stars can take a break.
"This is taper week, where they don't do as much but we nitpick little stuff like their starts and turns and their technique. We just fine-tune everything," Hamilton says. "They gotta rest."