Caitlyn Snyder had several reasons to smile on a sunshine-filled Saturday at the recently spruced-up Clovis West High School Aquatics Complex.
There were the four races the freshman sensation won or helped win during the 29th annual Clovis West Invitational, earning co-girls swimmer of the meet honors with Golden Eagles teammate Skyler Elkington.
There was the validation that she’s back in form eight months after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn left labrum.
And there was the pride of knowing she had made her father — Michael Snyder, who died unexpectedly a little more than a year ago — proud.
“Before every race when I’m on the block, I’m thinking ‘Can I do this?’ ” Snyder said. “Then I think ‘Dad, please help me for this race. Be with me, because it’s all for you.’ I swim for him.”
Michael Snyder, known affectionately around Fresno as “Big Mike,” died of a heart attack at the end of one of Caitlyn’s meets last March. He was the president of the Clovis Swim Club and a former football and basketball coach at Hoover.
His love of swimming rubbed off on Caitlyn, older sister Sarah (The Bee’s reigning girls water polo Player of the Year) and younger sister Julianne. Sarah was fifth in the 500 free and part of the 400 free and 200 free (which placed fifth) relays.
“Losing their dad was tough,” Clovis West coach Adam Reid said. “Mike was a huge part of their swimming. … They are swimming for their father. And he’s watching over them.”
While Sarah is a national-class water polo player, Caitlyn has emerged as one of the Central Section’s best swimmers by winning the 200 individual medley (2:09.08) and 100 breast (1:07.36) and helping power the champion 200 medley (1:51.78) and 400 free (3:34.53) relays Saturday as the Golden Eagles girls finished second to Westlake-Westlake Village 443-433 in the team standings.
“She’s really special,” Reid said. “There are not too many freshman who can go as fast as she can in any event. She can win any event out here. She’s got all the strokes.”
Reid said Snyder has only been training full-go for the past month. The late start didn’t keep Snyder from beating Westlake’s Jenna Farfan by more than a second in the 200 IM and Redwood’s Emily Vagim by 0.44 seconds in the 100 breast.
“It was difficult, but worth it,” Snyder said. “I went in there really nervous.
“I’m better than I thought I’d be. I had a mental (block), ‘Could I or could I not?’ Now, I’m ready to be the best I can be.”
Elkington, a sophomore, also had a big day for Clovis West, joining Snyder on the winning 200 medley and 400 free relays, while winning the 50 free (24.45) and 100 free (52.05) individually.
“My coach has really been pushing me,” Elkington said. “I really wanted to win. It makes all the practice worth it.”
Other local winners on the girls side included Clovis North’s Hunter Winslow in the 200 free (1:55.28) and Buchanan’s 200 free relay team (1:40.71) of Abbey Ervin, Lauren Holden, Kiara Dandridge and Stephanie Bartel.
Winslow came from behind over the final 100 to pass Frontier’s Ariane Skeggs.
“I’m surprised,” Winslow said. “They were all out so fast. I just kept thinking how in practice I always close strong. Everything you do in practice gives you confidence.”
On the boys side, Clovis West’s Preston Mayer was the only local individual champion, winning the 100 fly (52.40). Clovis won the 200 free (1:27.63) and 400 free (3:11.53) relays, with Seth Nabors, Conner Beers and Graham Hauss the mainstays on both teams. Zach Koch swam the third leg of the 200 free, while Ryan McVicar did the same in the 400 free.
Bullard’s Erik Overstreet entered top-seeded in the 200 and 500 free, but ran into tough out-of-section competition in Paso Robles from Joshua Dewhurst, who won both races and was named the co-boys swimmer of the meet.
Overstreet was second in both races (going 1:43.65 in 200 and 4:40.51 in the 500) as he tunes up for the Central Section Championships on May 15-16 in Bakersfield, and a hopeful berth in the first CIF State Championships, which will be held May 22-23 at Clovis West.
“I don’t get to race with this kind of competition usually,” Overstreet said. “It just shows me where I’m at and where I need to be.
“It’s awesome that we’re going to have a big state meet. I’m honored to have it in my senior year. It’s going to be a great meet, super fast.”
Clovis West finished second to Bellarmine Prep-San Jose in the boys team standings, 403-324. Westlake’s David Puczkowski, who won the 100 free and 100 back, shared swimmer of the meet honors with Dewhurst.