MODESTO — There are lots of reasons swimmers like competing in the Stanislaus County Southern Section Swimming and Diving Championships.
Some come to make a statement and cement their status as the best in the area. Others come to scout the competition they might face in league championships, or further down the road at the Sac-Joaquin Section meet. And some come just to race against themselves, hoping for a personal best in their particular event.
Either way, those motives combine to make the Stanislaus County Championships, held at Johansen High School, the best in-season meet around.
Hailee Baldwin, of Turlock's Pitman High, and Downey's Kerra Bispo are two of the District's top swimmers. And each entered Saturday's meet with a different mindset. Baldwin, coming off hard week of training, just wanted to have some fun.
"I came in pretty tired," said Baldwin, a winner over Bispo in the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. "We've been working hard this week in practice. I just wanted to swim and have fun. But it's always nice to show (the competition) where you're at."
Bispo aimed to get better in specific areas.
"I try to make sure I'm good in everything, and I try to face the best competition," Bispo said."
By trying to improve her breaststroke for the 200 IM, Bispo swam the 100 breast against Baldwin. She was second, but the encounter will make her sharper for the postseason.
Merced's boys and girls teams captured titles for the fourth consecutive year.
Though the Bears were ahead comfortably, they still conducted a fierce battle with Oakdale in the 400 freestyle relay. With the Mustangs holding a lead of half a body length going into the final leg, Merced anchor Brett Fogelberg chased down Soren Dickens and took it by about an arm's length.
"I knew I'd chase him down," explained Fogelberg, who won the 50 and 100 freestyles as well as competing on two winning relays. "That's the best part of my race chasing."
Fogelberg's teammate Josh Fleutsch also won two individual events (200 and 500 free).
The Merced girls faced a tougher battle, as Pitman came within 14 points (353-339) of ending the Bears' reign.
"I was definitely pleased with how the girls swam," said Pitman coach Michaela Solario. "At the end of the day, if they're doing the best they can and they did that's all I can ask."
Ripon's Erika Brown (200, 500 free) was the other double winner on the girls side.
In the 100 butterfly, Oakdale's Katie Vanderburg (1:03.57), Downey's Carly Wickman (1:03.70) and Los Banos' Mayra Garcia (1:03.87) were separated by a mere three-tenths of a second.
Closer yet was the finish in the girls diving competition. Gregori's Kristin Paulson finished with 288.70 points, one-tenth better than Turlock's Alex Schoeffling (288.60).