Merced boys, girls back on top at county swim championships

jcortez@modbee.comApril 12, 2014 

Prior to this season, Katelin Britton decided that swimming was once again going to be fun for her.

And what’s not fun about winning?

The Gregori High senior was victorious in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events to become the lone double-winner in the girls competition Saturday at the 10th annual Stanislaus County Swimming and Diving Championships at Johansen High School.

“I kinda got bogged down by the pressure last year,” said Britton, who will attend Fresno State in the fall. “I knew that college coaches were looking at me and I had high expectations for myself.

“I still want to be disciplined and work hard but I’ve tried to loosen up and just go have fun.”

Britton won the 100 free in a time of 53.81 seconds and the 200 in 1:58.40.

“I wish I could’ve gone faster, but I’m happy with my 100,” she said. “In the 200, I was looking to go closer to 1:55 or 1:56.”

Britton’s efforts were only good enough to help the Jaguars to a 15th-place finish in the prestigious event. Merced High, after having its three-year reign ended by Pitman (Turlock) last season, reclaimed the title with 381 points. Pitman was second with 362.

“My girls were behind most of the day,” said Merced coach Kit Grattan. “I didn’t feel like they were really into the meet. So I gave them the big lecture about doing their best until the very end. That’s how we operate. I think it fired them up.”

The Bears got things turned around in the 200 free relay – the seventh out of 10 events. Merced won (1:47.52) and Oakdale (1:48.09) just nipped Pitman (1:48.11) at the wall.

“They got us in the back and breast,” said Pitman coach Michaela Solario. “They just swam better than us in those events.

Solario pointed out that it’s been a difficult season for the Pride. Pitman High’s pool was out of commission for three weeks when the heating system conked out. That’s forced the team to practice here, there and everywhere while repairs were being made.

“It is what you make of it,” said Solario. “But if the kids didn’t work as hard as they do, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. So I’m completely pleased with the way they swam today.”

Downey’s Carly Wickman was the only other Modesto Metro Conference swimmer to win, taking the 100 butterfly in 1:02.75.

On the boys side, Merced High made it five straight wins at the County Championships as it lapped the field with 492.5 points. Pitman was a distant second at 225.5.

The Bears’ Josh Fluetsch (200 and 500 free) and Brandon Villegas (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke) were double winners, as was Golden Valley’s Connor Hoppe (50 free, 100 breaststroke).

Hoppe, who has his sights set on a national record in the 100 breast – his best is .2 behind the mark of 52.92, set in February by Jacob Molacek of Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb. – was the unofficial star of the meet.

Moments before the start of the 50 free, which Hoppe won in 21.67 – 1.75 seconds faster than second-place Cody Sharar of Enochs – Johansen sophomore Clayton Sanders was told by a teammate, “Hey, Clayton, beat Hoppe.”

His reply? A sarcastic, “Yeah, right.”

“It makes it a challenge racing against Connor,” said Sanders, who swam in a different heat than Hoppe and finished in 25.88 seconds. “But in the end, you know what’s coming.”

One swimmer, watching the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hoppe step onto the starting block, commented, “He’s a giant!”

One of Hoppe’s competitors, who climbed out of the water moments after Hoppe, could be heard saying, “That guy’s a monster!”

“I try not to let those things go to my head,” said Hoppe, The Bee’s reigning Swimmer of the Year. “I just try to stay focused on what I need to do in my race.”

No problem there.

After destroying the field in the 50 free, he obliterated the competition in the 100 breast (55.92), winning by 5.67 seconds over Merced’s Isaac Santana. Hoppe broke a 16-year-old meet record previously held by two-time section champion Drew Watkins of Johansen.

Hoppe’s is hoping to break that 100 breast record in the coming weeks.

“That’s the plan,” said Hoppe. “To do it at the section meet.”

The Sac-Joaquin Section swimming finals will be May 17 at Tokay High School in Lodi.

Only one boys competitor from outside the city limits of Merced earned a first-place finish – Los Banos diver Dalton Brooks, who took the competition with 359.60 points. Atwater’s Xavier Villa was second 305.55, followed by Alex Strizu of Enochs (286.25).

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.

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