In the first year of Clovis Community College’s swim and dive program, no one expected the teams to make it to the podium at the eight-school conference championship.
That is, except for the coaches and athletes themselves.
“We did better than what everybody else expected, but about as well as we expected,” said head coach Mark Bennett, who is also a Clovis Swim Club coach for Clovis Unified School District.
The 13-member women’s team earned a third-place finish at the Bay Valley Conference Championship meet in April and the 10-member men’s team won second place and boasted four event winners.
Bennett won the Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by all of the conference’s coaches. He has 17 years of coaching experience and was a Division I All-American at the University of Nebraska.
It was a bit of a surprise because we’re a first year program… that was definitely humbling,” Bennett said. “I think all the credit goes to our student athletes who ... chose an event schedule where they knew they could be successful and went into it believing that we had a chance to win our conference in our first year. We didn’t fall short by much and we have an excellent chance of doing that next year.”
Because the campus lacks athletic facilities, the team practiced in the pool at Clovis North High School. Bennett said the approval of Measure C on the upcoming ballot might free up some money to be able to build an aquatic facility on the campus in the future.
The team also has room to expand; each roster can have 18 members. Experience isn’t necessary.
“We had a number of female student-athletes who have never had competitive swimming experience before,” Bennett said.
The team only had one diver — Christine Calleja — who, although a strong swimmer, had no diving experience. In three weeks of practicing for an hour a day with dive coach Noel Farrer, Calleja was able to complete a qualifying dive list. She placed fifth in the conference, Bennett said.
“The athletes weren’t the fastest in the Valley coming out of high school. They were kind of the next tier of high school athlete,” Bennett said. “We have a great aquatics heritage at the high school level.”
Many of the swim and dive team’s members were former Clovis Unified student athletes, but some were Bullard and Hoover high school graduates; a few were homeschooled.
“A lot of them played sports in high school and they missed it,” Bennett said. “They miss being around people with common goals and the social aspect of showing up and putting in hard work and having a common objective within a team.”
There were several standout swimmers.
Clovis North graduate Rylee Radke qualified for the state meet by swimming a top-16 time for any community college in the state in her events — the 500-yard freestyle and 1650-yard freestyle, also known as the mile.
“A lot of people were patting us on the back and saying ‘that doesn’t happen,’” Bennett said.
Although Radke made the state meet her priority, she still won three events at the conference meet: the 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle swims.
She ended up placing fifth in the mile at the state meet, making her a California Community College Athletic Association All-American.
“She did that in an event she had never competed in before. She had only done water polo and swam in high school, so she wasn’t expected to be in that All-American status,” Bennett said. “She also place ninth overall in the 500 freestyle.”
Clovis Community College also had several multiple-event conference champions on the men’s side.
Buchanan High grad Cole Armas won the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke. Connor Beers won the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle and Jared Koch won the 200-yard and 400-yard individual medley. Both athletes are Clovis High graduates. Buchanan grad Michael Lucas won the 1,650-yard, or mile, freestyle.
The Clovis Community College women’s swim and dive team includes Alexandra Amendt, Lauren Barcelos, Christine Calleja, Katie Horsford, Miriam Kilabi, Sabrina Kumar, Lydia LaTour, Amanda Mayes, Rylee Radke, Megan Smith, Cassie Turner and Frenisia Williams.
The men’s team athletes are Cole Armas, Connor Beers, Cody Cartozian, Samuel Duggins, Nick Hernandez, Jared Koch, Micael Lucas, Shane Matthews, Josh Melgarejo and Luke Pfaunmiller.
Jordan Morillo is the team’s assistant coach.
Clovis Community College competed against College of the Sequoias, Merced College, Fresno City College, Shasta College, Laney College, Marin College and Solano College.