Despite more than 100 varsity swimmers, Granite Bay embraces the team concept — and wins as a result
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Waking up before sunrise to jump in a pool and training upwards of 20 hours per week in the water and in the weight room seems like a grind where the word “fun” rarely comes up.
But the Granite Bay swimming program has found a way to breed enjoyment—along with Olympic champions—for swimmers of varying levels of talent and experience. Of course, winning consistently also has a way of making the grind of the swimming season a little easier.
“Our first goal is to be the most fun program,” said head coach John Sherman, who has coached both the boys’ and girls’ swim teams at Granite Bay for the last 11 years. “We try to make it fun and positive for year-round swimmers and recreational swimmers alike.”
The Grizzlies have discovered how to blend club and rec swimmers to create a unique team dynamic that has translated to unparalleled success, evidenced by the fact that Granite Bay’s swimmers have not lost a dual meet in more than 15 years. The girls’ program has never lost a league dual meet since the campus opened in 1996, and the boys’ program has not suffered a defeat after finishing second in the league standings in its inaugural campaign.
The impressive streaks, though, are at the forefront of Sherman’s goals for the program, which features approximately 110 swimmers at the varsity level this season. The first priority after having fun is winning Sac-Joaquin Section titles. Winning league titles and extending the streak are secondary to earning a banner.
The Grizzlies have won a total of five SJS championships between the boys’ and girls’ programs, with the boys riding a streak of two in a row and three of the last four crowns. The girls’ team won in 2007 and 2009, thanks in some part to 2012 Olympic medalists Alyssa and Haley Anderson.
While the team championships and individual accomplishments are certainly nice, Sherman takes pride in creating a team atmosphere in a largely individual sport.
“We try to make it more like other team sports like football or basketball,” he said. “We want to make it bigger than them.”
Sherman’s team philosophy includes a heavy emphasis on power in numbers. The Grizzlies show up together to meets and always leave together as one unit well after most of the swimmers have gone home.
“We are always the last team to leave the pool even if it is not our own pool,” said senior Hannah Calton, a freestyle and butterfly specialist who has committed to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Sherman emphasizes being a team, and we all stick together and are there for each other to the last relay.”
The Grizzlies’ swimmers make the lengthy meets (a typical dual meet can last up to four hours) more enjoyable with team cheers, music, and constant support for any Granite Bay swimmer or relay team competing at any given moment.
“It never feels like a bad thing to stay around for the whole meet,” said Chase Cooper, a breast stroke specialist for the boys’ team. “The (post-meet team) warmdown is important physically, but it ensures that we all stay there to support the team.
“When everyone is still there cheering for the last relay, it makes it feel like a team.”
Senior Lauren Fitzgerald, a Rice University commit that has Olympic Trials “cuts” in several events according to Sherman, admits the coach’s team concept and rules can initially seem strange to year-round club swimmers. But, as a senior, she has gained a greater appreciation for having scores of teammates cheering her and others on regardless of the event and its bearing on the outcome of the meet.
Often, the final events are afterthoughts to another Granite Bay dual meet victory, but the enthusiastic support should not be overlooked as a key component in the Grizzlies’ streak.
“It is a great feeling when you step on the block and all of your teammates are cheering and supporting you,” said junior Kevin Wylder, who swims in part to stay in shape for water polo. “We motivate each other and hold each other accountable to get the most out of every practice and meet.”
With the streak taking on a bit of a life of its own, pressure to extend it could build on individuals. No swimmer wants to be part of the team that sees the streak end, but everyone in the program understands that the streak is secondary to winning a section title — and having fun doing it.
“We are not usually focused on the streak because we are thinking about sections mainly,” Cooper said. “We could lose focus in league, but coach Sherman always gets us back on track. He stresses the importance of maintaining focus and has a plan for everyone.”
That plan includes focusing on each practice and meet with the end goal of success at the Section Masters at Tokay High in Lodi on May 11. The Grizzlies will be strong contenders for both team titles again, with some of the usual challengers looming at the biggest meet of the season. Jesuit, Davis, and Rio Americano boys will be strong as always, as will the girls from Davis, Rio Americano, and St. Francis.
Among Granite Bay’s top individual performers are Kevin Wylder and Alek Dendall on the boys’ side. Wylder owns some school records and should contribute points to the Grizzlies in freestyle and butterfly events. Despite being just a sophomore, Dendall is “mature past his years,” according to Sherman, and an all-around contributor whose biggest challenge to the coach can be determining which events to enter him.
Additionally, Ryan Whelan is a solid entry in the butterfly and backstroke who is “an absolute racer.” Cooper is one of the most competitive members of the boys’ team, and should add points to the cause in the breast stroke.
On the girls’ side, Calton and Fitzgerald are veteran swimmers who Sherman expects to medal in a number of events. Grace Reego splits her time in the pool between swimming and water polo, and will contend in the freestyle and back stroke events. Karrisa Conner’s contribution will come from the diving board. The junior finished second at the Sierra Foothill League meet and can help the team with a high finish at the section meet.
With many talented individuals, the Grizzlies still point to the larger team with the hopes of earning more championship banners.
“I believe that our depth is the greatest asset we have,” Whelan said. “We have lots of great swimmers that can help us in relays and different events.”
Regardless of their finish in Lodi, the Granite Bay swim teams are sure to enjoy their time together to conclude the long grind of the swimming season.
Perhaps, even with a final team warmdown to close out another successful meet.
SportStars Magazine: High School Sports Articles Online SportStars is your go-to source for the very best high school sports articles in California. Player and team profiles, game coverage, health and fitness tips and the largest Camps, Clinics & Combine resource for athletes. We're the story behind the stats.