By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Undefeated and set for another conference swimming championship, the Santa Rosa Junior College men want to make a bigger splash and take the school’s first state title.
The Bear Cubs women also are among California’s elite junior college teams heading into the season’s biggest meets.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Alexandria Holland, out of Maria Carrillo High. “We have a really solid team, super supportive in practice and meets. We work so hard every day.”
Coming off third-place finishes at the state meet a year ago, the Santa Rosa men and women have taken training to a new level to swim faster this season. A greater focus on weight training has helped swimmers stay stronger through the three-month season.
“Training-wise, everything has been going really well this season. It’s definitely more work,” said Alex Xu, a first-year swimmer from Casa Grande High.
The season peaks this month with the Big 8 Conference finals and then the California Community College Athletic Association championships. The final regular-season meet is Saturday at Chabot College in Hayward.
Santa Rosa’s men have been the best in Northern California and defeated the Southland’s best in a big meet. What the Bear Cubs have never done, though, is win the state title.
“I definitely think we can take it this year. Overall as a group we just have more depth,” said Sean Malley, a second-year swimmer from Campolindo High.
“We want to be the first ones to do it here.”
Having already qualified six swimmers for state finals in a number of events and all five relays, Santa Rosa’s men are tuning up to swim their fastest in the biggest meets.
“A state title has been our goal since the beginning of the year. We’re going to get after it,” said Santa Rosa coach Jill McCormick.
Leading the men are Malley, Xu, Justin Lomas (Fairfield), Nolan Stimple (Piner), John Bing (Roseburg, Ore.) and Trent Williams (Terra Linda).
Stimple is in his second year, swimming the 200-yard and 100-yard butterfly events.
“He’s made huge improvements,” McCormick said.
A top newcomer has been Xu, who swims the 400-yard and 200-yard individual medleys and the 200-yard breast stroke.
“He’s been a huge addition,” McCormick said. “We keep calling him our secret weapon. He can do everything.”
Swimming better than he ever has, Xu credits weight training and committed teammates.
“It’s a mentality of staying focused. I can hopefully turn that into some memorable races,” Xu said.
What makes Santa Rosa even better this season is a strong group of divers. Nico Suissa, from France, leads the divers and Robert Coxon, from El Molino, also has a shot to reach the state finals.
Santa Rosa’s women have won six state titles, the last in 2009. While the Bear Cubs will be challenged to finish in the top three this year, they have steadily improved throughout the season.
Holland reflects that growth. After missing a season because of shoulder surgery, the former Maria Carrillo standout is back in strong form.
“I just tried to stay fit and strong,” Holland said. “It’s feeling really good right now. I feel like every single meet I’m improving.”
Aggressively training and pushing once back in the water, Holland has helped lead the Santa Rosa women.
“Alexandria definitely has put herself out there as one of the best,” McCormick said. “She’s really solid in everything.”
Holland is best in the 100 and 200 individual medleys and 100 butterfly.
Also leading the Santa Rosa women are Jessica Crawford (Heritage), Becky Bennigson (Benicia) and Meghan O’Rourke, from Montgomery High.
NorCal Diving Championship
April 14, at Merced College
Big 8 Championships
April 19-21, at American River College
April 26-28, at East Los Angeles College