When assessing which events he would swim as a senior, Clovis West High’s Matt Elkington remembered the long, painful bus ride from Bakersfield following the 2015 Central Section Division I finals.
For the first time in 17 years, the Golden Eagles had failed to capture the section title.
Elkington took the hurt of the loss to rival Clovis to heart and vowed to do whatever he could to make sure it didn’t happen again.
So Elkington passed up the opportunity to swim for a second straight 100-yard backstroke title and instead challenge Graham Hauss, one of the Cougars’ top points producers, in the 200 free – an event in which Hauss was the section’s top returning medalist after placing second in 2015.
“It was a team thing where I looked at the team first,” Elkington said. “I said, ‘Where can I go to find the biggest competition and beat them out?’ And Graham is the only guy I know who can swim any event and win. So I said, ‘I’ll go swim that’ because we needed someone to race them.”
It was a team thing where I looked at the team first. I said ‘Where can I go to find the biggest competition and beat them out.’
Clovis West’s Matt Elkington on his victory over Clovis’ Graham Hauss in the 200 free
Elkington not only switched from an event he’s medaled in twice previously, he outdueled Hauss in section-record fashion and accomplished his objective of helping Clovis West regain the section team title.
The Bee’s Boys Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year clocked an All-America 1 minute, 36.91 seconds in the 200 free, 1.38 seconds ahead of second-place Hauss and 1.74 seconds better than the section record of 1:38.53 of Clovis West’s Matt Bilello in 2012.
The UC Santa Barbara-bound Elkington’s 200 free time was 11th fastest this season for a U.S. high school male and highlighted a banner postseason that concluded with four podium finishes at the CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships.
“I knew I could get the section record, but 1:36 was way beyond my comprehension,” Elkington said. “I was expecting to barely beat Graham. That was my goal, just beat him, but I ended up doing much better than I hoped. I guess senior year and last high school race, it brings out the best in you.”
In addition to his section record in the 200 free, Elkington won the 100 butterfly in 49.09 and anchored second-place 200 free (1:24.70) and 400 free (3:03.88) relays, all in All-American times.
He would go on to medal in all four events at the state meet, placing fourth in the 200 free (1:37.74), sixth in the 100 fly (49.23), fifth in the 200 free relay (1:24.87) and third in the 400 free relay (3:04.71).
Elkington earned or helped power national top-35 times, with his best 100 fly (48.57 set at the Clovis West Invitational) 29th, the Golden Eagles’ top 200 free relay (1:24.45 in a state meet prelim) 35th and their best 400 free relay (3:03.88 at the D-I finals) 20th.
“It was great to see him come out and break that section record and reach some of his goals,” Clovis West coach Adam Reid said. “Because it’s been a long process for him to get where he is today.”
It was great to see him come out and break that section record and reach some of his goals. Because it’s been a long process for him to get where he is today.
Clovis West coach Adam Reid on Elkington
Motivation to practice has admittedly been an issue over the years for Elkington, who took the uncharacteristic step of taking a week off after club junior nationals in March before beginning training for high school roughly six weeks into the season.
Elkington didn’t begin formal club training until after a freshman season that saw him place eighth in the 100 back, 13th in the 100 fly and fourth as part of the 200 medley relay.
He blossomed into one of the section’s top swimmers as a sophomore, placing second in the 100 back, third in the 100 fly and first as part of the 200 medley relay at the section finals. As a junior, Elkington won the 100 back and was second in the 100 fly while striking gold in the 200 medley relay and silver the 400 free relay, qualifying for the state meet in all four events.
“If I wasn’t at this level of swimming, where I am closer to the top than someone else just doing it for high school, I don’t know if I’d be able to continue,” Elkington said. “It’s a demanding sport mentally. You have to have the mindset to swim the sets and love it. But for me, it’s a little tough.
“That’s why swimming with the high school team was so phenomenal. We knew we could celebrate that last championship together. I hope that team element is even expanded at UCSB.”
Boys Swimming Outstanding Relay School: Clovis
They are qualified because: The Cougars repeated as Central Section champions in the 200 and 400 free relays, setting records in both, and swept both at the CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships. Clovis (Jesse Serpa, Quinton Sanchez, Josh Duncan and Seth Nabors) also finished fourth in the 200 medley relay (1:38.37) at the Division I finals.
School of sprinters: Clovis set the section record (1:24.73) and won the first CIF State title (1:23.60) in the 200 free relay in 2015. Two of the four members of that team – Zach Koch and Graham Hauss – returned, with Jesse Serpa and Jacob Rolih joining the group. And they were even better in 2016, lowering their section record to 1:23.71 and their state record to 1:23.12, the 10th fastest time nationally for a prep boys team this season.
Fast over longer distance, too: Koch and Rolih joined holdovers Hauss and Nabors in an even more formidable 400 free relay team than the one that won the D-I title (3:06.67) and finished ninth in the state (3:06.79) in 2015. They smashed Clovis West’s 2012 section record by 1.32 seconds with a 3:03.85 at the D-I finals, then swam a surprising 3:03.35 – 15th fastest in the nation this season – to win the state title. “I was very, very surprised, even at Valley, when the 400 free relay won,” Clovis coach Peter Tragitt said. “I didn’t think we’d be able to go that fast, and to come back at the state meet and go even faster was a complete shock. For them to get fired up and do what they did was pretty remarkable.”
He said it: “It’s been really good for our program. It put a little more motivation on the boys. They realized they could be state champions. They just had to work hard in practice, and that’s what happened all year.” – Tragitt
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the Clovis High relay lineups.
The Bee’s Boys Swimming and Diving All-Stars
- Owen Ansel, senior, 200 IM/100 breast/200 medley relay/200 free relay, Kingsburg
- Carson Brett, senior, 200 free/500 free/200 free relay/400 free relay, Exeter
- Callen Bruening, senior, 200 IM/100 back/200 medley relay, El Diamante
- Chase Canteburry, sophomore, 50 free/100 free/200 medley relay/200 free relay, El Diamante
- Jakob Crocket, senior, 50 free/100 free/200 medley relay/200 free relay, Buchanan
- Tanner Davis, senior, 100 fly/100 breast/200 medley relay, Clovis East
- Colby Evangelinos, senior, diving, Clovis West
- Paul Flora, junior, diving, Tulare Western
- Ben Forbes, freshman, 200 free/100 free/200 free relay/400 free relay, Clovis North
- Graham Hauss, junior, 200 free/500 free/200 free relay/400free relay, Clovis
- Noah Hickman, junior, 50 free/100 breast/200 medley relay/200 free relay, Buchanan
- Zach Koch, senior, 50 free/100 fly/200 free relay/400 free relay, Clovis
- Hunter Lane, junior, 200 IM/500 free/200 medley relay, Clovis West
- Preston Mayer, senior, 100 fly/100 back/200 medley relay/400 free relay, Clovis West
- Tanner Olmos, senior, 200 free/500 free/400 free relay, Buchanan
- Jacob Roberts, senior, 100 free/100 breast/200 free relay/400 free relay, Clovis West
- Jacob Rolih, senior, 50 free/100 fly/200 free relay/400 free relay, Clovis
- Tom Schab, junior, 200 IM/500 free/200 medley relay, Clovis West
- Satoshi Shinkawa, sophomore, 50 free/100 fly/200 medley relay/200 free relay, Kingsburg
- Thomas Vandiver, senior, 200 IM/100 back/200 medley relay/200 free relay, Buchanan